Box Office Preview: 'Aquaman' Swims Into China Ahead of U.S. Bow

Conversely, the marquee in the U.S. will be devoid of new nationwide releases in the run-up to the Christmas crush.
'Aquaman'   |   Warner Bros. Pictures
Conversely, the marquee in the U.S. will be devoid of new nationwide releases in the run-up to the Christmas crush.

The major box office action this weekend will be in China, where Aquaman swims into theaters two weeks ahead of its U.S. launch.

The marquee in North America, however, will be noticeably devoid of new wide releases in the lull before the Christmas crush.

Holdover Ralph Breaks the Internet is expected to top the domestic chart for the third weekend in a row. A handful of titles will open at the specialty box office, including Ben Is Back and Vox Lux (both films were shut out from Golden Globe nominations on Thursday).

A Star Is Born, which earned five Globe noms, will get a one-weekend special showing in Imax theaters, while Universal is rereleasing a remastered cut of Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List in more than 1,000 cinemas timed to the Oscar-winning film's 25th anniversary.

Warner Bros. decided to unfurl Aquaman first in China, followed by additional foreign markets next week, in order to get a jump on a crowded pack of year-end holiday films, including Mary Poppins Returns and the Transformers spinoff Bumblebee.

Aquaman is set to debut in North America on Dec. 21, the beginning of the lucrative year-end holiday corridor.

Directed by James Wan and starring Jason Momoa in the titular role, Aquaman could earn anywhere from $50 million to $70 million in its debut at the China box office.

James Li, co-founder of the Beijing-based market research firm Fanink, says his company's prerelease tracking indicates a strong opening, although probably not quite as powerful as Venom's record-setting $111 million first weekend (the Sony tentpole has collected an historic $269 million as of Wednesday).

"In all key measures, such as awareness and first-choice preference, Aquaman's market heat is higher than the Hollywood norm," Li says. "It has an edge over most solo superhero movies except Venom." Enthusiasm also appears to be building for Aquaman, Li said, with an upward trend across demographics and city tiers.

Jimmy Wu, chairman of nationwide Chinese cinema chain Lumiere Pavilions, says his company also is expecting solid numbers for Aquaman. He says the film could post a lifetime gross of RMB 800 range ($125 million), making it the highest-grossing DC title ever in China. 

Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson and Dolph Lundgren co-star in Aquaman.