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The box office blockbuster has returned.
Over the weekend, the Chinese war epic The Eight Hundred opened to an estimated $112 million in China, including previews, according to regional box-office tracker Artisan Gateway. That’s despite the fact that theaters in the Middle Kingdom continue to limit capacity by 50 percent amid the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.
Cinemas in China closed in late January, and have been slowly coming back online in recent weeks. The better-than-expected performance of The Eight Hundred is a huge boost for the global film business, which has been devastated by widespread theater closures.
Directed by Guan Hu (Mr. Six, 2015) and produced by leading private studio Huayi Brothers Media for over $80 million, The Eight Hundred is one of the most ambitious war films ever made in China. The film did huge business in Imax locations in China, or $6.7 million.
“After being closed for six months, the performance of IMAX theatres at the Chinese box office continues to exceed our expectations and reinforces our belief that audiences are eager to return to theatres where local guidelines allow,” Imax CEO Rich Gelfond said in a statement. “The Eight Hundred breaks new ground as the first commercial film in Asia shot entirely with IMAX cameras and its strong debut marks a significant step in the rebound of the theatrical business in the critically important Chinese market.”
The movie fueled Imax to its best weekend, or $7.5 million, since the pandemic began.
The Eight Hundred centers on a pivotal episode of the Sino-Japanese war, the historic siege and defense of Shanghai’s Si Hang Warehouse in 1937. The brutal encounter marked the last stand of the Chinese forces in defending the country’s most cosmopolitan city from Japanese occupation. An unlikely band of soldiers, deserters and civilians — who collectively became known in legend as “the eight hundred heroes” — held out against waves of Japanese forces for four days, providing cover for the retreat of China’s principal forces who thus retreated west to protect the country’s heartland during the next phase of battle.
It features a sprawling ensemble cast — Ou Hao, Wang Qianyuan, Jiang Wu, Zhang Yi, Du Chun, Wei Chen, Tang Yixin, Li Chen, Liang Jing, Ethan Ruan, Liu Xiaoqing, Yao Chen, Zheng Kai and Huang Xiaoming — and also benefited from some notable below-the-line support from Hollywood, such as Oscar-nominated visual effects supervisor Tim Crosbie (X-Men: Days of Future Past) and veteran action coordinator Glenn Boswell (The Matrix, The Hobbit).
Elsewhere on Chinese screens, Warner Bros.’ 4K restoration of Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone added $4.1 million to its healthy $23.3 million rerelease total. Disney’s Onward also brought in $1.9 million for the frame for a $2.6 million China total.
China’s box office remains in an insurmountable hole for 2020. Total box office for the year is just $590.6 million as of Sunday, down from $6.3 billion at the same time in 2019. Hollywood’s big test in the recovering China market will come on Sept. 4 with the release of Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros.’ sci-fi spy film Tenet.
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