China Box Office: 'Doctor Strange' Revives Local Market With $44.5M Debut

Courtesy of Marvel
'Doctor Strange'

The performance continues Disney's dominant year in the Middle Kingdom.

Marvel and Disney's Doctor Strange gave the sagging Chinese box office a much-needed jolt of energy over the weekend.

The film opened to a healthy $44.5 million from Friday to Sunday, surging way ahead of the weekend's second-place finisher Hide and Seek, a thriller from Enlight Pictures and Village Roadshow Asia.

Doctor Strange, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton, debuted to $12 million on Friday, before nabbing $17.7 million on Saturday and $13.5 million on Sunday, according to local box-office monitor Ent Group (the company's full-weekend estimate was slightly lower than Disney's at $43.8 million).

The strong Doctor Strange debut is the biggest China opening for any first installment in a superhero franchise. It ranks roughly in the middle for Marvel titles in the country: well below franchise mainstays like Avengers: Age of Ultron ($155.7 million, over a midweek to weekend opening in 2015) and Captain America: Civil War ($96.6 million in May), but slightly above smaller pictures from the MCU, such as Ant-Man ($39.1 million in 2015) and Guardians of the Galaxy ($$39.4 million in 2014).

In the film, Cumberbatch plays elite surgeon Stephen Strange, who, after his hands are injured in a car accident, seeks out the help of the Ancient One (Swinton), a master of the mystical arts. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Rachel McAdams also star.

The big bow from Doctor Strange continues Disney's outstanding year in China. Four out of five of the biggest Hollywood films of 2016 in the country have been Disney titles — Zootopia ($235.6 million), Captain America: Civil War ($190.4 million), The Jungle Book ($150.1 million) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($124.2 million). Local outlier Warcraft, from Legendary Entertainment, was the only imported film that was able to keep pace with Disney output in the Middle Kingdom this year (Kung Fu Panda 3, with $154.3 million, was classified as a local film because it was a China co-production).

China's box office had reached 38.88 billion yuan ($5.74 billion) by the end of October, according to Ent Group. That's an increase of 4.7 percent compared to the same period last year; but the single-digit growth marks a dramatic slowdown from 2015, when the market expanded by an astounding 49 percent. 

Second-place finisher Hide and Seek is a remake of a 2013 South Korean hit of the same name from Seoul-based production company Studio Dream Capture. The Chinese version looks unlikely to match the $35.6 million that the original earned in Korea. The films follow two families who believe that strangers are living in their homes. In an attempt to track the mysterious strangers down and figure out their intentions, the families try to decipher a series of codes and clues.

In third place, Chinese comedy Mr. Donkey added $4.5 million in its second weekend, bringing its 10-day total to $19.7 million. Written and directed by Lu Liu and Shen Zhou, the colorful comedy tells the story of a rural Chinese school that tries to pass off an uneducated laborer as a qualified teacher in an effort to get more funding from the government.

Japanese animation import Crayon Shin-chan: Fast Asleep! Dreaming World Big Assault! took fourth place with $2.6 million over its first three days, while new Hong Kong release Someone to Talk To, a drama from Edko Films, landed in fifth place with $1.8 million.

Operation Mekong, China's only big hit of the fall, added $1.6 million for sixth place. After 38 days on Chinese screens, the action vehicle from Hong Kong director Dante Lam has earned $172.9 million.

Further down the list, Trolls continued its disappointing run by adding just $1.4 million in its second weekend for a 10-day cume of $6.9 million.

China has a busy stretch of Hollywood openings coming up. Keeping Up With the Joneses from 20th Century Fox opens Tuesday, followed by Ang Lee's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk on Friday and Deepwater Horizon next Tuesday (Nov. 15).