China Box Office: 'Fleet of Time' Sails On as Big Season for Domestic Movies Opens

John Woo - H 2014
Clifford Coonan

John Woo - H 2014

Coming-of-age movie outpaces John Woo's big-budget epic 'The Crossing: Part 1'

Chinese drama Fleet of Time stormed to the top of the charts in the world's second-biggest box office, taking $33.07 million in its opening weekend, considerably more than John Woo's hotly anticipated epic romance The Crossing: Part 1.

Adapted from a popular novel by Jiu Yehui, Fleet of Time was directed by Zhang Yibai and took $3.35 million last week, ahead of its official premiere, from special screenings for people who bought tickets online.

Featuring Ni Ni, Eddie Peng and Ryan Zheng, Fleet of Time is a coming-of-age story about a group of school friends growing up in the 1990s and 2000s, key periods of transformation for China.

According to the Chinese research firm Entgroup, the movie had 127,144 screenings and 5.85 million admissions over the three days.

Read more Imax Adds Jackie Chan's 'Dragon Blade,' John Woo's 'The Crossing' to China Release Slate

The Crossing, which is showing in two parts in Asia and was produced by Woo and his longtime collaborator Terrence Chang, had 192,968 screenings and 2.79 million admissions.

Based on a true story, The Crossing is a grand romantic saga about three couples fleeing China for Taiwan on a steamer during the 1949 revolution. The ship sank after colliding with a freighter, claiming about 1,000 lives, and has been dubbed "China's Titanic."

In third place was Pang Ho-Cheung's ensemble starrer Women Who Flirt, which took another $13.73 million in its first full week for a cume of $27.07 million, with 159,106 screenings and 2.51 million admissions.

The Mandarin-language movie stars Zhou Xun, Huang Xiaoming, Sui Tang and Xie Yilin.

Meanwhile, in fourth place, Christopher Nolan's space epic Interstellar took another $9.76 million to bring it to $118.82 million after 26 days. It's now taken an impressive global haul of $593.1 million, and it's now China's biggest-grossing 2D Hollywood movie of all time.

Read more Beijing: John Woo Talks U.S.-China Collaboration, Hollywood Lessons, Next Two Films (Q&A)

The next few weeks are set to be key for Chinese movies as the country's film bosses try to balance out domestic and foreign box-office takes following the big performances of movies such as Transformers: Age of Extinction, which took $321 million here.

Dozens of movies will do battle during the frantically competitive Chinese New Year movie season, which includes the fast-emerging Christmas and New Year market as well as the huge Lunar New Year bonanza in mid-February, a record run of 95 days this year, with dozens of films lining up to woo audience attention.

One movie due to star during the New Year period is Jiang Wen's forthcoming 3D epic Gone With the Bullets, but it remains to be seen if the movie is ready for its Dec. 18 launch date after the premiere was delayed because of censorship issues.

A sequel to 2010's wildly successful Let the Bullets Fly, the film has already run up more than $19.5 million in pre-ordered tickets weeks before its theatrical release.

Also among the movies coming during the season are Meet Miss Anxiety, the South Korean war movie Battle of Myeongryang, and Gu Changwei's Love on the Cloud, which opens Christmas Eve (Dec 24).

Read more John Woo Discusses Upcoming Epic 'The Crossing'

Others include Jackie Chan's Dragon Blade and Li Bingbing's Zhong Kui: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal, and Jean-Jacques Annaud's China-France co-production Wolf Totem is also on its way.

DreamWorks Animation's Penguins of Madagascar added another $4.3 million to bring its cume after 24 days to $327.03 million, while Roy Chow's Rise of the Legend took another $2.69 million to bring its 17-day cume to $28.41 million.

Behind that was Brad Pitt's Fury, which took another $2.26 million for a cume of $17.32 million after 17 days. Ning Haiqiang and Shen Dong's The Galaxy on the Earth has notched up a cume of $3.54 million, and Gabe Ibáñez's Automata, with Antonio Banderas, took another $700,000 for a cume of $3.32 million in its first full weekend.

Twitter: @cliffordcoonan