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The Force was not with Star Wars: The Last Jedi in China this weekend.
The Rian Johnson-directed eighth installment in the fabled space saga debuted to just $28.7 million in the Middle Kingdom, getting thoroughly trounced by holdover local comedy The Ex-File 3: The Return of the Exes, which earned a huge $86.7 million, according to early estimates from local ticketing service Maoyan. After two weekends, plus the New Year’s holiday, The Ex-File 3 has brought in just shy of $200 million (1.3 billion RMB).
The Last Jedi also opened well below its recent predecessors, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and spinoff Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Force Awakens debuted in China on a Saturday in 2016, making direct comparisons inexact. But the J.J. Abrams film clearly was much bigger: It pulled in $33 million on opening day, finishing the two-day weekend with $53 million. And Rogue One earned a bigger $31 million in its opening Friday-to-Sunday frame.
With its screen share already on the wane and Sony’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle coming on Friday, The Last Jedi definitely won’t match Force Awakens‘ $124 million China total, and may not even reach Rogue One‘s $69 million haul. Both of those films faded fast after their opening frames, and the erosion is likely to be worse for Jedi.
The Last Jedi had the most screens of any film on Friday with a 34.6 percent share from 90,761 showings, compared to Ex-File 3‘s 33 percent screen share with 86,792 showings, according to Maoyan. But after Ex-File 3 more than doubled the Disney film’s opening day, earning $22.9 million on Friday compared to Jedi‘s $9.5 million (including $520,000 in Thursday previews), Chinese theater managers started to favor the local hit. On Saturday, Ex-File pulled in $33.6 million from a 40.6 percent screen share, while Jedi stalled with just $11.1 million from 26.6 percent of all Chinese screens.
The Ex-File franchise was created by comedy writer-turned-director Tian Yusheng. The franchise tells a series of stories about young bachelors whose ex-girlfriends shake up their lives. Ironically, the Chinese films echo the classic Star Wars movies in their titles: the second film is Ex-Files 2: The Backup Strikes Back (2015, $38.9 million) and the third, now dominating The Last Jedi, is subtitled The Return of the Exes.
The Star Wars franchise’s challenges in China are well established by now. Force Awakens’ $124 million total in 2016 was only enough to rank 13th on China’s full-year charts, a soft finish compared to its all-time No. 1 showing in North America ($936.6 million). And despite featuring two Chinese stars, Rogue One‘s $69.5 million total put it way down at 35th place last year (after it again came in first place in North America).
The most common explanation for the weak results is that the Chinese audience is unfamiliar with the space saga’s complicated backstory and lore, since the original three films weren’t imported by China at the time of their release. But perhaps most troubling for Disney, Chinese filmgoers seem to be liking the Star Wars universe less rather than more as the franchise becomes more familiar. According to local media reports on Sunday, the audience for The Last Jedi has skewed conspicuously older than for other Hollywood hits, as well as the last two Star Wars releases — which means the franchise is increasingly failing to attract the vital very young demographic that drives big box-office returns in the country.
Internationally, the picture is rosier, of course. The Last Jedi‘s global gross to date is $1.2 billion, compared to $2.06 billion for The Force Awakens and $1.06 billion for Rogue One.
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