China Box Office: 'Arrival' Leads Quiet Pre-Holiday Weekend

Paramount Pictures

Cinemas were ghostly quiet as the country prepares for a wave of big local releases, led by Stephen Chow and Jackie Chan, over the upcoming Chinese New Year holiday.

Denis Villeneuve's critically acclaimed sci-fi drama Arrival scored a weekend win at the Chinese box office, but it did so during the country's weakest release frame of the year — the weekend before Chinese New Year.

Although word-of-mouth surrounding the Paramount film has been quite positive, it earned just $7.3 million from Friday to Sunday, narrowly beating Sony sci-fi holdover Passengers at $6.9 million. After 10 days, Passengers, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, has earned $34.6 million, according to data from box-office tracker Ent Group.

Chinese New Year runs from Jan. 27 to Feb. 2. The week preceding the holiday — the most important family event of the year in China — always sees cinemas empty out, as students and workers travel to their provincial hometowns and parents prepare for the festivities. Once the holiday kicks off, however, families and old friends hit the multiplex in force.

Other holdovers notched predictably exiguous grosses over the down weekend: Chinese comedy Some Like It Hot added $5.7 million for a total of $83.1 million over 24 days; Rogue One pulled in $3.5 million, taking its 17-cumulative to $61.8 million; The Great Wall added $1 million for a total of $167 million; and Hacksaw Ridge ground out another $560,000, carrying its China haul just past the $60 million mark.

But all of these films will be washed from the market next weekend by the coming wave of Chinese blockbusters. China's regulators block new Hollywood releases from opening during the holiday, giving local titles free rein; and the frame is usually stacked with the biggest Chinese movies of the year, which dominate any holdovers. 

Last year, China's box office racked up $548 million during the first week of Chinese New Year — a world record for a single territory. The tally was driven by Hong Kong hitmaker Stephen Chow's latest comedy, The Mermaid, which took $275 million in its first seven days, as Wong Jing's From Vegas to Macau III and fantasy blockbuster The Monkey King 2 earned $119.6 million and $116.2 million, respectively.

This year, Chow will be back, but only as a producer. Fellow Hong Kong veteran Tsui Hark has directed the sequel to Chow's 2013 fantasy hit Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons. The second installment, Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back, opens Jan. 28. Chow wrote and produced, and fan favorites Kris Wu and Bao Bei'er star.

Eight other films are opening the same day. Other titles expected to lead the pack include Buddies From India, starring and directed by local comedy king Wang Baoqiang; Jackie Chan's similarly themed India co-production Kung Fu Yoga; and Boonie Bears: Entangled World, the fourth installment in the hit local animation franchise.