Box Office: 'The Lion King' Dethroned Early in China

Before Disney's CGI remake could reach its second weekend in the massive Chinese market, a local family film opened Thursday to rave reviews and began dominating ticket sales.

A coup d'état is afoot at China's massive movie box office. Disney's The Lion King opened last weekend in the Middle Kingdom to a healthy $55 million, but the Hollywood blockbuster's reign is proving surprisingly short-lived.

Looking Up, a local family film, was released Thursday to rave reviews and is already dominating ticket sales across the country. By 3 p.m. Beijing time, Looking Up already had earned just under $6 million for the day, about three times The Lion King's $2 million tally.

Looking Up's muscular start is especially troubling for The Lion King's legs in China because the local title is playing as direct competition. Both movies focus heavily on father-son relationships and are pitched toward multigenerational family viewers.

Co-directed by and starring Deng Chao (The Mermaid, Duckweed), Looking Up tells the story of a Chinese father (Deng) who deviates from China's standardized test-focused approach to education and parenting, and instead nurtures his son (played by Feng Ze'ang as a boy and Bai Yu as an adult) and encourages him to chase his own dreams.

The film takes the present day as a framing device, in which the adult son, now an astronaut, loses contact while aboard his ship amid the vastness of space. The film then proceeds in a series of flashbacks as the son thinks back about the wisdom and generosity of his dad.

"This is a film you should watch with your child," said one user of Chinese social media service Weibo in a widely shared post. "It offers encouragement and guidance about how we should approach education in the family."

"The film shows some of the problems with our educational system, and the importance of children's independence," wrote a user of Chinese movie reviews site Douban. "But it also teaches not to give up under pressure, or when facing difficulties — it's worth a lot of thought."

Looking Up is riding strong social scores: 9.4/10 from ticketing app Maoyan, 9.1 on Alibaba's Taopiaopiao and 6.3 from Douban (which has a more critical community of filmgoers). The Lion King has been relatively well received in China, too, though, with its scores sitting at 8.9, 8.8 and 7.4, respectively.

Looking Up's cast and filmmakers began a major marketing tour last weekend, holding preview screenings across the country. By Wednesday, even though the film had yet to officially open, Looking Up already had sold more than $14 million in tickets for previews. The film is produced by Deng's company Tianjin Chengzi Yingxiang Media, with Enlight Media, Maoyan, Tencent Pictures and Dadi Films also holding stakes.

After its solid $55 million opening, The Lion King was projected by Maoyan to finish in China with approximately $165 million (RMB 1.14 billion). Those forecasts are being revised downward significantly as Looking Up grows. As of mid-afternoon Thursday, the film had earned $74 million.