China Box Office: 'Star Wars' Winds Down During Slow Week

Courtesy of Lucasfilms 2015/Walt Disney Studios
"Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

Bad weather kept many moviegoers in the world's second-largest theatrical market at home, but 'Kung Fu Panda 3' brought a jolt of energy during preview screenings.

A brutal cold snap put the freeze on the Chinese box office over the past week as temperatures hit record lows in some parts of the country and many would-be moviegoers stayed home.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, now approaching the end of its China run, won the quiet week with a gross of just $18.2 million, down 59 percent from the week prior, bringing its 16-day China cumulative to $115.8 million, according to Beijing-based box office analysis firm EntGroup.

While large by normal standards, Force Awakens' China haul is significantly behind many analysts' pre-release predictions. Young filmgoers outside the country's major urban centers — commonly referred to as "tier 1 cities" (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou) — are surprisingly unacquainted with the fabled Star Wars franchise due to unique historical factors that prevented the first six films from getting wide exposure in the country. Local industry figures say many regional filmgoers — who are increasingly required to lift titles to true blockbuster status in China — weren't sure what to make of J.J. Abrams' nostalgia-driven story beats, as they simply have no nostalgia tied up in the original set of characters. 

"Many people in second- to fourth-tier cities were very confused," one cinema chain manager told THR. "Maybe they should have made a special 10-minute pre-show trailer for China, explaining who is who, and what happened in the previous six episodes."

DreamWorks Animation's much anticipated Kung Fu Panda 3, meanwhile, delivered a jolt of energy to the market, scoring an impressive $6.6 million during three hours of limited previews on Saturday, which earned it sixth place for the full week. The revenue made was more than double what Star Wars grossed for the full day. Thanks to strong local devotion to the franchise and unprecedented efforts to localize the threequel — including a special Chinese version of the filmKFP3 looks teed up to do huge business when it opens wide on Friday, Jan. 29.

Local animation hit Bonnie Bears 3 grossed $13.3 million during its second week, hitting $33.4 million after nine days. But with KFP3 set to awe the market next weekend, BB3 may struggle to match the $44.3 million that the previous installment, Boonie Bears: Mystical Winter, made in 2014.

The Last Witch Hunter landed in third for the week, riding surprisingly high on star Vin Diesel's popularity in the market (Furious 7 is the second-highest grossing film ever in China). The Summit Entertainment production earned $11.5 million, for a 10-day cumulative of $21.1 million. The movie was widely panned by critics stateside, where it has grossed $27.3 million.

In fourth, Thai-set comedy caper Detective Chinatown, from Tencent's Heyi Pictures and Wanda Media, added another $7.9 million for a 25-day cume of $120 million.

Robert Zemeckis' The Walk pulled in $6.8 million over its opening three days for fifth place. China is likely to surpass North America ($10.1 million) as the struggling movie's largest market worldwide. The film's star, Joseph Gordon Levitt, has a strong following in China, due to the huge local popularity of Inception ($68.4 million in 2010, a giant gross for China at the time) and Looper, which was co-produced and aggressively promoted by Chinese studio DMG Entertainment.

Further down the charts, Baidu-owned iQiyi Pictures' treasure hunter adventure, Royal Treasure, added $6.2 million for a $18.2 million 10-day total. Local crime thriller Inside or Outside earned $4.0 million over its opening three days, and Chinese romantic thriller The Secret scored $3.0 million, hitting $9.4 million after 10 days. Gritty Beijing-set crime drama Mr. Six, meanwhile, starring Feng Xiaogang, managed another $3.0 million for a total of $136.9 million after 32 days in Chinese cinemas. The film, which screened at the Toronto and Venice film festivals, is currently the 19th highest-grossing movie ever in China — not bad, considering that many had predicted it was too edgy for mainstream Chinese consumers.