China Box Office Sees Lowest Pre-Christmas Weekend Since 2014 as ‘The Rescue’ Defeats ‘Wonder Woman 1984’

This weekend pit the best of Hollywood’s action tentpole rolodex against China’s — and found that fresh local content has greater sway over local audiences in what is now the world’s largest film market.

Wonder Woman 1984” grossed just $18.8 million in China, almost half the approximately $34 million haul of Chinese actioner “The Rescue.” Both films far underperformed against expectations, however, as the Chinese box office saw its lowest pre-Christmas weekend since 2014, despite the country’s low levels of coronavirus threat.

Dante Lam’s big budget spectacle “The Rescue” was one of the most hotly anticipated films of the late January Chinese New Year — and of 2020 — but saw its release indefinitely bumped after cinemas shut nationwide just before the holiday due to COVID-19 lockdown. It was initially planning a Chinese New Year 2021 release, but as that window has filled up with majorly competitive titles — including other strong holdovers from last year, such as “Chinatown Detective 3” — it appears to have strategically opted for the less competitive year-end slot.

Nevertheless, its debut earnings are much less than expected, and Maoyan currently projects that it will go on to sales of just $71.5 million overall — spectacularly less than Lam’s recent action flick outings. His “Operation Red Sea” earned $576 million in 2018 to become China’s fifth highest grosser of all time, and even 2016’s “Operation Mekong” grossed $172 million at a time when China had many fewer screens and a much smaller film market. “The Rescue” holds a strong 9.2 out of 10 user review rating on the Maoyan platform, but just 6.3 out of 10 on the more discerning Douban site.

Meanwhile, “Wonder Woman 1984” saw opening figures far less than the $38 million that the original Gal Gadot-starring title earned in its China opening weekend. It may end up earning less than the $90.5 million “Wonder Woman” earned in China in 2017.

To some extent, the poor performance of the two titles may reflect Chinese consumers’ broader willingness to spend in a year of pandemic and economic downturn.

China’s nearly half-century of continuous economic growth stalled out for the first time in decades due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the economy shrinking 6.8% year-on-year in the first quarter. In November, the country reported consumer deflation for the first time since 2009, which analysts say raises concerns about real consumer spending power.

The total box office this weekend was $71.5 million, a more than 34% decrease from the same weekend before Christmas last year, an 18.6% decrease from 2018, and a whopping 49% increase from 2017, when Feng Xiaogang’s “Youth” and Chen Kaige’s “Legend of the Demon Cat” kept turnstiles spinning en masse.

This weekend, by contrast, the third top grosser was the small local comedy holdover “Bath Buddy.” Written, directed and produced by Joshua Yi, it grossed just $6 million in its second theatrical weekend.

Universal’s “The Croods: A New Age” came in fourth with approximately $2.4 million in sales. In fifth was local rom-com “The End of Endless Love” from female helmer Luo Luo, with sales of around $2 million. Japan’s animated “Doraemon: Nobita’s New Dinosaur” was sixth, having grossed $1.52 million.

China reported 104 new cases of COVID-19 this past week, while the U.S. reported more than 1.5 million.