China Box Office: 'Interstellar' Triumphs in Face of Tough Competition

In a hugely competitive week in China, the space epic beat out romantic comedy and cartoon penguins

Interstellar took $42.33 million in its first five days in China, dominating a week in which Christopher Nolan's sci-fi epic went head-to-head with Johnnie To's romantic comedy Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 and DreamWorks Animations' Penguins of Madagascar in the world's second largest movie market.

Starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway as astronauts trying to save the human race, with an ensemble cast that also includes Jessica Chastain and Michael Caine, Interstellar racked up 7.14 million admissions from 149,316 screenings, according to the research outfit Entgroup.

That was fewer screenings than the second-place movie in the week to Nov. 16, Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2, but the space film also showed on 170 Imax screens in China, which gave box office a major lift.

Nolan, McConaughey and Hathaway came to Shanghai to promote it, which also boosted its popularity.

Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2, directed by Hong Kong's To and Wai Ka-fai as a sequel to their 2011 hit, features Gao Yuanyuan, Louis Koo, Daniel Wu and Miriam Yeung.

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The movie grossed $22.63 million after five days and had 157,107 showings and 3.6 million admissions.

Behind that came Penguins, which took $11.23 million in its opening weekend.

This box office figure for Penguins is far short of the $26.4 million that DWA’s How to Train Your Dragon 2 scored in its opening weekend back in August, the biggest-ever opening for a toon in China.

However, the figure is in line with the $13 million that Fox Animation and Blue Sky's Rio 2 took on its China bow in April.

It shows how fiercely competitive the market for screen space can be in China.

A lot comes down to what other movies are debuting when something launches, and Penguins' performance looks a lot stronger when you consider that it had to compete for screens with Interstellar and Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2.

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Penguins notched up 61,605 screenings, and it had half the number of screenings that fourth-place Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did.

On its launch, Rio 2 had to compete for screens with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Rio 2 had just 68,525 screenings and 2.2 million admissions, one third of the number of screenings for Captain America.

Dragon 2 had a huge 130,586 screenings and 4.28 million admissions in its opening weekend and was released at a time when there were no Hollywood tentpoles in August.

The previous Madagscar did $33 million in China, a franchise best, so coming weeks will be worth watching.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles earned another $7.85 million to bring its cume in China to $60.33 million after 17 days, with 114,352 screenings 1.3 million admissions.

In fifth place was For Love or Money, the first Chinese movie for Korean entertainer Rain and also featuring Crystal Liu. It added $3.63 million in its first full week for a cume of $9.29 million.

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For Love or Money had 74,255 screenings far more than Penguins and the number of admissions was 723,600.

This was followed by the YA film adaptation The Maze Runner, which has now grossed $23.98 million after 20 days.

Teddy Chan's Kung Fu Jungle, featuring Donnie Yen, Wang Baoqiang, Charlie Yeung and Michelle Bai,came in behind that, taking another $1.82 million to bring its cume to $18.70 million.

In eighth place was Luc Besson's sci-fi action thriller Lucy, which has had a great run in China, adding $1.39 million to bring its gross after 24 days to $44.77 million. The film stars Scarlett Johansson as a woman who is forced to take a drug that gives her extraordinary mental abilities. The lack of a film classification system certainly helped the movie's performance, along with its Asian settings and cast.

Behind that was horror flick Haunted Road last week there was a movie called Haunted Cinema on the charts which took $1.4 million in its first four days, while Wang Tao's action drama The Boundary, featuring Liu Ye and Vincent Zhao, has grossed $5.54 million after 11 days.

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Twitter: @cliffordcoonan