China Box Office: 'Kung Fu Panda 3' Earns Impressive $6.4M in Previews

'Kung Fu Panda 3'
Courtesy of DreamWorks

The third installment in DreamWorks Animation's franchise screened for only three hours on Saturday.

DreamWorks Animation's Kung Fu Panda 3 doesn't open in North American theaters until Friday, but Po the panda has already made a suitably large splash in China.

Chinese regulators gave Kung Fu Panda 3 the green light to hold preview screenings over a three-hour period on Saturday afternoon. According to Ent Group, the movie managed to sell an impressive $6.4 million in tickets during the limited window, which allowed for two tight showtimes of the 89-minute film (including credits) at select cinemas around the country.

The performance was all the more promising for DreamWorks Animation given the brutal cold spell that blanketed most of China on Saturday, keeping many consumers huddled at home. KFP3's previews haul was more than double the $2.9 million that Star Wars: The Force Awakens — in its third weekend in Chinese cinemas — earned for the full day.

DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and the studio have a lot riding on the threequel, co-directed by Alessandro Carloni and Jennifer Yu

Kung Fu Panda 3 is the first release from Oriental DreamWorks, its joint venture formed in 2012 with China Media Capital and Shanghai Media Group. The Shanghai-based studio was established with a mission to create Chinese-themed, Hollywood-quality animation projects for both the booming China market and the world.

International investors will be scrutinizing KFP3's performance for signs that DreamWorks' investments in China are paying off with enhanced market access and local support, while the Chinese government will be looking for an indication that allowing the Glendale-based entertainment company a place in its highly-regulated media market is yielding the international promotion of Chinese values it so dearly covets.

Kung Fu Panda 3 will be released in China in two versions, one in Mandarin Chinese and the other in English. Both versions were animated separately so that the characters' mouths, expressions and body language perfectly match the nuances of each language — a first in animated film history. DWA sources say they are hoping Chinese filmgoers will be curious enough to see the film twice, to compare the two versions, driving box office even higher. 

DWA's combination of China's cherished cultural icons — the panda and kung fu — has resulted in an enthusiastic embrace of the film franchise. The first Kung Fu Panda grossed $26 million in China in 2008, a massive performance at a time when annual box office was roughly one-tenth of what it is today. In 2011, Kung Fu Panda 2 earned $92.2 million, setting a new record for the highest-grossing animated film in the country ever.

Given that January is traditionally a down month at the North American box office, the plan for a simultaneous day-and-date release on Jan. 29 indicates just how much DWA is banking on a huge showing in China, which is expected to become the world's largest theatrical market sometime next year. Although it's a dud date in the U.S., DWA has indicated that it believes Jan. 29 is one of China's most desirable opening slots of the year, covering the winter school break, Chinese New Year and Valentines Day — all major movie-going occasions in the world's most populous nation.  

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