More than three weeks after its North American debut, Universal Pictures’ Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is finally revving up for a muscular opening in the massive China film market this weekend. But just how big the tentpole’s debut weekend will be is the subject of some debate among box office analysts in the country.
The previous two installments in the Fast and Furious franchise were historic earners, with Furious 7 pulling in $391 million in 2015 and The Fate of the Furious taking in $392 million in 2017. Both totals were all-time box office records at the time, and both films earned more in China than they did in North America (Furious 7 topped out at $353 million domestically and Fast 8 did $226 million).
Universal is again banking on a big showing in China, particularly since Hobbs & Shaw is tracking well behind its core franchise predecessors on a worldwide basis. The David Leitch-directed spinoff has earned $137 million in North America for a running worldwide total of $442 million to date — and that’s against a hefty $200 million production budget, and with no new major markets left after China. Furious 7 finished at $1.5 billion worldwide and Fast 8 at $1.24 billion.
But the franchise’s fervent popularity in China still augurs success for Hobbs & Shaw.
“I think we will be seeing a classic Hollywood franchise repeating its success in China, with an opening weekend box office over RMB 500 million [$71 million],” says James Li, co-founder of Beijing-based market-research firm Fanink. “Overall, prerelease heat for Hobbs & Shaw shows no big surprises,” Li says, noting that local awareness, interest and first choice numbers for the film are roughly on par with where The Fate of the Furious was around this time in its release cycle in 2017.
Rance Pow, CEO of box office tracking firm Artisan Gateway, adds that “Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham are both very popular action stars in China,” both in the F&F franchise and elsewhere. Johnson had three films released in China last year, all of which did well even if some were weaker in other markets: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle ($78 million), Skyscraper ($98 million) and Rampage ($156 million). Statham’s latest release, The Meg, also was a big hit in China, taking $153 million.
China hasn’t seen a Hollywood action blockbuster since Spider-Man: Far From Home opened on July 2, which tends to result in pent-up demand for U.S. studio action thrills. Hobbs & Shaw also won’t face any “heavy competition in the market until early September,” Pow points out.
Citing these factors, some local analysts in China have predicted an opening weekend as high as RMB 800 million ($112 million).
Among the indicators giving other analysts pause are the somewhat slower clip of ticket presales for the spinoff so far, and the significant gap between the U.S. release and the China opening. Low-quality pirate copies of the film have been accessible on torrent sites in China for more than a week.
“Not having the same cast — especially Vin Diesel — is a key barrier this time around, which could partly explain why the heat is not stronger,” Li adds. Diesel’s brute brand of masculine star power has just as much appeal in China as Johnson’s hulking charisma, especially among males in China’s tier three and four cities, regions that are important contributors to the earnings of breakthrough action blockbusters.
“We are hoping for a huge Fast & Furious-style response from the filmgoers,” says Jimmy Wu, CEO of cross-regional cinema chain Lumiere Pavilions. Wu says his team has pegged the film at a total China run in the range of RMB 2 billion ($282 million). “We had a slow first half of the year at the box office here in China, so everyone in the cinema business is wishing for a big performance.”