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While the rest of the world is gearing up for Rouge One: A Star Wars Story, China has its own would-be blockbuster to measure this weekend: Legendary Entertainment’s The Great Wall, starring Matt Damon.
The much-anticipated period fantasy opened Friday to $24.3 million (169 million RMB), including $7.2 million in Thursday night previews, according to Legendary. The debut puts it on track for a strong, if not emphatically epic, $55 million to $60 million opening weekend. (Beijing-based box office tracker Ent Group had the film just slightly higher at $24.5 million).
Directed by Chinese Oscar-nominee Zhang Yimou, the movie is the biggest China-Hollywood co-production ever, with an estimated budget of $150 million. It was financed by Legendary, Universal, China Film Group and Le Vision Pictures. Many are viewing Great Wall as a bellwether for the workability of big-budget co-pros between the world’s two largest, but culturally distinct, film markets.
The single-day haul puts The Great Wall ahead of recent imported tentpoles Doctor Strange ($12.6 million on Nov. 4) and Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them ($10.8 million, Nov. 25). But a more direct comparison might be Legendary’s own Warcraft, which earned a historic $46 million (302 million RMB) on its opening day over the summer (Wednesday, June 8), before soaring to $221 million in China.
Given the way tentpoles have tended to open big and quickly fade in the Chinese market throughout 2016, word of mouth will be vital for Legendary and its partners over the coming few days. Early indicators are mixed. The film currently has a not-so-hot score of 5.3 on leading fan review site Douban, while ranking slightly higher on Mtime, another leading movie site (both Doctor Strange and Fantastic Beasts score over 8 on Douban and around 7.5 on Mtime).
The Great Wall is premised on a mythic origin story about the cultural artifact of its title — that the Great Wall of China was built to defend against something far more fearsome than warring nomads from the North. Damon plays a British mercenary who joins the Chinese to fight for humanity against an army of Taotie — monsters from ancient Chinese mythology — who wage an attack every 60 years. The film’s large cast includes Willem Dafoe and Pedro Pascal, and an array of top Chinese talent, including Hong Kong’s Andy Lau, local heartthrobs Lu Han and Lin Gengxin and others.
The film opens in North America on Feb. 17.
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