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Denis Villeneuve’s Dune made a solid start at China’s theatrical box office over the weekend, opening to a healthy $21.9 million. But the artful sci-fi epic proved no match for the enduring nationalistic appeal of Chinese blockbuster The Battle of Lake Changjin, which added $32.3 million to its mammoth box office total despite opening nearly a month ago.
The Battle of Lake Changjin has now earned an astounding $828.1 million (RMB 5.3 billion), according to data from Artisan Gateway, and it will likely become China’s biggest film of 2021 — which is to say, the biggest movie in the world this year — unseating Chinese New Year comedy Hi, Mom, which earned RMB 5.41 billion in February (or $821 million according to exchange rates at the time).
Dune‘s opening haul is Hollywood’s fourth-biggest of 2021 in China, trailing a trio of far less cerebral tentpoles: F9: The Fast Saga from Universal, Warner’s Godzilla vs. Kong and Disney’s Free Guy. The opening also marks a China best for Villeneuve, beating his prior sci-fi stunners Blade Runner 2049 ($7.6 million) and Arrival ($7.3 million), both of which opened in the country in 2017.
Maoyan, China’s leading ticketing app and movie data company, projects Dune to finish its run at approximately $35.2 million.
Dune was marketed and distributed in China by Legendary East, the Beijing-based unit of Legendary Entertainment, which is itself owned by Chinese real estate conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group. Warner Bros is distributing the tentpole everywhere else in the world. The movie opened simultaneously on Friday on WarnerMedia’s HBO Max streaming service, and high-definition pirate copies, which have proliferated in China since late last week, are thought to have taken at least some bite out of the film’s theatrical debut.
Dune performed particularly well on Imax in China, however, opening to $5.1 million across the brand’s giant-screen network, which amounted to 23 percent of the local total from only 1 percent of the local screen share. Imax China says it has notched its biggest October box office total ever, with a week of the month still remaining.
Dune‘s social scores in China reflect a reality widely anticipated by local box office analysts — high marks from Chinese film buffs but softer numbers from mainstream moviegoers in provincial regions of the country. On Douban, China’s leading online community of tastemakers, Dune is rated 7.9/10, the highest score for a U.S. studio film since the start of the pandemic (F9 is 5.2; Godzilla vs. Kong is 6.3; Free Guy is 7.6). But on Maoyan, which is used throughout China, Dune has a rating of 8/10, which is on the low end among major recent Hollywood releases (Maoyan scores always skew higher overall than Douban’s).
China’s potential box office size shrunk overall over the weekend due to yet another COVID-19 flare-up, which shut down cinemas in at least eight regions of the country, including Xinjiang, Shanxi, Gansu, Ningxia, Qinghai, Guizhou, Hebei and Inner Mongolia. China’s “Covid zero” approach to battling the pandemic means draconian shutdowns in the event of even the smallest outbreak. According to Reuters, a little more than 100 locally transmitted cases were recently reported across provinces. As a result, even with the solid tentpole product on offer, China’s nationwide weekend box office total shrank to an October low of just $69.3 million.
Hollywood will be back in the Chinese multiplex on Friday with the local premiere of the James Bond installment No Time to Die.
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