China Box Office: 'Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker' Crashing, Beaten by Local Blockbusters

Courtesy of Lucasfilm
'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker'

The J.J. Abrams mega-tentpole, made for an estimated $250 million to $300 million, is opening in a distant fourth place in the massive Chinese market, earning less than any Disney 'Star Wars' trilogy title to date.

Disney and Lucasfilm's Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker had barely achieved liftoff in the Chinese film market Friday before it became overwhelmingly apparent that it was destined to crash.

As of 5 p.m. local time, J.J. Abrams' The Rise of Skywalker had earned just $1.6 million for the day (RMB11.6 million), enough only for a distant fourth-place start, according to live estimates from ticketing service Maoyan. That figure rose to an estimated $2.4 million by the conclusion of evening shows, although Disney won't officially release its estimate until Saturday.

Skywalker earned an additional $3.6 million in Wednesday and Thursday previews, according to Disney. That puts its three-day total at roughly $6 million.

Maoyan's data-based forecast for Skywalker's full run currently sits at a lackluster $17.8 million (RMB125.3 million). If the forecast holds true, Rise of Skywalker is in for an almost exponential China comedown from both Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi ($42.5 million in 2017) and Abrams' own The Force Awakens ($124 million in 2015).

Word of mouth for the Disney trilogy closer is tepid to match. Skywalker is scoring 7.7 out of 10 on Maoyan, 8 on Alibaba's Taopiaopiao and 6.8 on film fan site Douban. The preceding two films in the franchise, while not particularly adored in China, both scored 7.3 on Douban.

The overwhelming weekend winner in China will be Donnie Yen's own franchise finisher, Ip Man 4: The Finale, which features the action star's final performance as the titular martial arts master who famously trained Bruce Lee. Ip Man 4 had brought in $7.2 million by 5 p.m. Friday.

In second place for the day underway was holdover Chinese thriller Sheep Without a Shepherd with $3.1 million (RMB 22 million), while third place appeared secured by Feng Xiaogang's comeback feature, Only Cloud Knows, a romantic tragedy based on a true story.

A modest comeback for Skywalker isn't impossible at this early stage, but with all three of the local Chinese releases attracting higher social scores, the chances of a miracle from the Rebel Alliance are looking increasingly slim.

Signs of a soft start for The Rise of Skywalker began to emerge earlier this week as presales trailed previous releases. Older males were the one demographic group that seemed to be showing reasonably robust interest in the film, according to Beijing-based market research firm Fanink. 

A large part of the Star Wars franchise's struggles in China stem from the fact that the original three films never received a wide release in the country. When Star Wars: A New Hope came out in 1977, China was deeply impoverished and only beginning to recover from the ravages of the Cultural Revolution. The nostalgia-heavy story beats of the updated Disney films haven't helped matters, often leaving young Chinese filmgoers befuddled and unenthused. 

The raft of competition coming to market alongside Skywalker is now driving the franchise to a new all-time low in China. 

Said James Li, Fankink's co-founder, moments before the film's local release: "The new Star Wars is faced with quite strong competition [from] Ip Man 4, according to our tracking numbers. While Only Cloud Knows, Feng Xiaogang's new movie, is showing limited prerelease heat among moviegoers at large, it is highly regarded among industry insiders and is likely to generate strong positive word of mouth." 

Dec. 20, 10:45 a.m.: Updated with revised grosses for Skywalker, including previews.