China Box Office: 'Maleficent' Pulls Off Upset Over 'Gemini Man'

Despite backing from Chinese conglomerate Fosun, which has an equity stake in the film, Ang Lee and Will Smith's 'Gemini Man' failed to achieve a hoped-for save in China.

Heading into the weekend, Ang Lee's ailing Gemini Man was looking for a save from China's massive theatrical market.

Those hopes were dashed relatively early Friday, however, when local word of mouth for the action thriller turned tepid and Disney's Maleficent: Mistress of Evil began earning considerably more on a per-screen basis.

Local theater chains — as they do in China — responded in real time, shifting screens away from Gemini Man. By the time the dust settled on Sunday, Maleficent was the surprise weekend winner with $22.5 million, compared with Gemini Man's underwhelming $21 million start, according to data from regional box office tracker Artisan Gateway. 

Japanese anime sequel One Piece: Stampede also nearly pulled off what would have been an even more ignominious upset. The Japanese title — the 14th installment in a long-running Toei Animation franchise — earned $19.6 million, just a step behind the Will Smith thriller.

The soft start for Gemini Man is a blow to both Paramount and Skydance, as well as Chinese conglomerate Fosun, which took a sizable equity stake in the film in April. Chinese Internet giant Tencent also owns a minority piece of David Ellison's Skydance. Ang Lee, although Taiwanese, is considered a hometown hero in mainland China, and Will Smith also is a local fan favorite.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, meanwhile, may have a shot at matching the first Maleficent film's 2014 China total of $47 million, thanks to solid social scores on leading ticketing apps (such as 9.1/10 on Maoyan).

Holdover blockbusters from China's National Day holiday period continued to do robust business. Bona Film Group's airplane emergency rescue flick, The Captain, added $16.4 million for a three-weekend gross to $377.5 million. Propaganda vehicle My Country, My People brought in $8.1 million for a $387 million total.

After spending most of the year in decline, China's total box office for 2019 so far is up 5 percent, totaling $7.67 billion.