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Luc Besson’s struggling space epic Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was the winner of a decidedly downbeat weekend at the Chinese box office.
The effects-heavy sci-fi spectacle opened to $28.7 million, with $3 million coming from 431 Imax screens, according to data from EntGroup. That’s considerably better than Valerian‘s disastrous $17 million North American debut — and also an improvement on Besson’s Lucy, which opened to $20 million in China in 2014.
But the modest first-place China haul — one of the weakest wins of the year for a tentpole import — probably won’t prove nearly enough to turn around the film’s dire financial outlook. With a production price tag of $180 million, Valerian is the most expensive indie film ever made — not including the additional $60 million that was reportedly spent on marketing and publicity. As recently as Thursday, Valerian had earned just $132.8 million worldwide.
Valerian‘s less than heroic China outing also comes as a blow to Shanghai-based Fundamental Films, which holds a minority stake in Besson’s EuropaCorp and shelled out an estimated $60 million for the film’s budget.
Besson did have the distinction of deposing local mega-blockbuster Wolf Warrior II — although not by as much as one might have thought, given that the patriotic actioner has been in cinemas for five weeks. The Wu Jing juggernaut added $16.1 million as it marched past the $800 million mark to hit a 32-day total of $811 million. No Chinese film has ever come anywhere close to earning as much (Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid is a distant second at $527 million).
Friday marked the first day in more than a month that international movies could be found in local multiplexes, as Beijing lifted its annual summer blackout on Hollywood imports. But the U.S. releases on offer didn’t benefit from any of the usual post-blackout bump that has been known to come from pent-up demand for Hollywood pyrotechnics.
Disney/Pixar’s Cars 3, which opened to $53.6 million in North America, earned just $10.7 million in its first frame, extending Pixar’s mysterious losing streak in China.
Sony’s Baby Driver also promptly ran out of gas, taking just $9.7 million for the weekend after bowing to $3.7 million on Friday.
Christopher Nolan, one of China’s favorite auteurs, will attempt to demonstrate that Hollywood can do better when Dunkirk opens Friday.
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