China Box Office: 'Wonder Woman 1984' Disappoints as Market Recovery Loses Momentum

Wonder Woman 1984
Warner Bros. Entertainment

Gal Gadot and Chris Pine in 'Wonder Woman 1984'

Dante Lam's 'The Rescue' opened in first place but also finished far behind expectations as dissatisfaction with both new releases, combined with a local cold snap, weighed on China's theatrical recovery.

China's box office was the scene of disappointment over the weekend as Warner Bros.' Wonder Woman 1984 got trounced by local action flick The Rescue.

The Rescue, directed by Dante Lam, opened to $36.3 million, nearly double Wonder Woman 1984's meager $18.8 million start, according to data from Artisan Gateway. Both films finished the weekend far below expectations though, as audience disappointment in the movies and a sudden cold snap across much of China weighed on the country's theatrical market recovery. A few small-scale clusters of COVID-19 also have kept consumers in several cities indoors in recent days.

It was abundantly clear, however, that filmgoers mostly just weren't particularly enthused about either of the new releases. WW 1984 scored just 7.8/10 from Alibaba's ticketing app, Taopiaopiao, and 7.9 from rival service Maoyan, where some users griped that the film had too much romantic drama and not enough action (marketing for the Hollywood movie also appeared scarcer than usual across Chinese digital and social media channels, according to industry sources The Hollywood Reporter has spoken to in recent days). The Rescue scored 9.1 and 9.2 from the two ticketing services, respectively, but it was panned by users of the influential, and more discerning, movie site Douban, where it earned an average rating of 6.3. The Chinese tentpole was also hurt by some bad buzz — a weak story and less-than-expected action were common complaints — which emerged in the wake of preview screenings last week.

The first Wonder Woman (2017) debuted in China to $38 million on its way to a total haul of $90.5 million. At its current pace, the $200 million sequel, which reunites director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot, could struggle to earn much more than a third of that total. Maoyan projects the film to finish in China with just $33.7 million (RMB 221.2 million).

The Rescue, although it won the frame, crashed even more disastrously from the performance of its predecessor. Lam's previous release, Operation Red Sea (2018), which shares a patriotic theme and style with The Rescue even if it's not a direct sequel, opened to $137 million and eventually totaled a historic $575 million. Made for more than $90 million, The Rescue is now widely expected to lose money. Maoyan forecasts a final total of just $71 million (RMB 467 million) for the movie.

The weekend before Christmas is usually a solid earnings window in China. Total box office for the frame this year was just $71.5 million, a slip of over 34 percent compared to the same period a year ago. As the calendar ticks over into 2021, the film industries on both sides of the Pacific will be looking for signs of whether the recovery of China's always-unpredictable theatrical sector is losing steam for reasons related to fundamentals, or if weak content was the issue as 2020 inched to a close.