China Box Office: 'Captain America: Civil War' Rockets to $96M Debut

Captain America Marvel's Captain America: Civil War - Still Group shot-H 2016
Courtesy of Film Frame/MVLFFLLC/Marvel

Captain America: Civil War

'Civil War' scored the second-biggest weekend opening in the Middle Kingdom behind 'Furious 7.'

Marvel Studios and Disney's Captain America: Civil War got a hero's welcome at the Chinese box office over the weekend, debuting to an eye-popping $95.8 million. 

The performance marks Hollywood's second-biggest three-day start ever in China, behind only Furious 7 in 2015. Civil War opened with $30.3 million on Friday, including previews. Just three imported films have earned more on their first day in the Middle Kingdom: Furious 7 ($64 million, Friday), Avengers: Age of Ultron ($33.9 million, Tuesday) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($33 million, Saturday).

The stellar start puts Civil War on track to surpass Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($115.6 million) and Iron Man 3 ($121.2 million). The big question is whether it can match Age of Ultron, which closed out its China run with $240.1 million. 

Civil War will have one more full weekend to itself before The Divergent Series: Allegiant, The Angry Birds Movie and Southpaw all open on Friday, May 20.

As in the rest of the world, Disney has been on a hot streak at the Chinese box office in 2016. The studio has three of the top five highest-grossing imported movies of the year so far: Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($125.4 million), Zootopia ($235.6 million), and The Jungle Book ($147.3 million). And Civil War is certain to bump Warner Bros.' Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice ($95.8 million) out of the top five tomorrow. Only DreamWorks Animation's China co-production Kung Fu Panda 3 ($154.3 million) was able to keep pace with Disney's output.

Civil War, which revolves around a feud that forces the Avengers to choose sides between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), has enjoyed effusive word-of-mouth in the Chinese mainland. On leading local movie site Douban, Civil War now holds a score of 8.2, based on 56,000 user views.

Directed by the Russo brothers, who recently launched a Chinese film studio, Civil War is packed with Avengers favorites, including Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), Anthony Mackie (Falcon), Don Cheadle (War Machine) and Paul Rudd (Ant-Man), among others. It also introduces two new characters: Tom Holland as a young Spider-Man and Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther.

The numbers coming out of China also are broadly in line with the film's trajectory stateside, where Captain America made a huge $181.8 million domestic debut. Internationally, it earned a total of $220 million this weekend for a foreign cume of $496.6 million and global haul of $678 million.

The intramural smackdown at the heart of the film proved a boon to Disney and Marvel when it came to international marketing. The studio split up the Russo brothers and divided the cast into "Team Cap" and "Team Iron Man," as featured in the film, and the two groups fanned out across the globe to make media appearances.

Led by Joe Russo, members of Team Cap (Evans, Sebastian Stan, Mackie) did the China promotional duties, landing in Beijing last month during the city's annual film festival. The three stars and director met the Chinese press and flattered local fans by painting traditional Peking opera masks in the colors of their superhero characters. Downey Jr., Anthony Russo and other castmembers were holding a parallel press conference in Paris at the time.

Some fabled Hollywood film franchises — Star Wars is the most notable example — are surprisingly unknown in the world's most populous nation, simply because the original films or stories came out at a time when China was still a mostly poor, developing country. Marvel doesn't face that marketing hurdle; the studio's timing in China scarcely could have been better. The first Iron Man film came out in 2008 (earning $15.3 million in China), just as the movie theater construction boom that would fuel the historic rise of the Chinese box office was getting into gear. As Marvel's cinematic universe unspooled, the Chinese market was growing with it. Marvel-Disney characters are the American action heroes to a whole generation of millions of Chinese.