China Box Office: 'Wonder Woman 1984' Limps Towards Second-Place Opening

Wonder Woman 1984
Warner Bros. Entertainment

Warner Bros.' 'Wonder Woman 1984.'

As of early evening in Beijing, the Warner Bros./DC superhero film had earned only half as much as local action tentpole 'The Rescue.'

Wonder Woman 1984 is off to a sluggish start in China.

The Warner Bros./DC superhero tentpole opened Friday in direct competition with Chinese action flick The Rescue, directed by Dante Lam, and as of 5 p.m. in Beijing, the local favorite had staked out a commanding lead. The Rescue's mid-evening total stood at $8.9 million and climbing, compared to just $4.6 (30 million RMB) for WW 1984, according to an estimate from Artisan Gateway.

The first Wonder Woman (2017) debuted in China with $38 million, finishing at $90.5 million. At its current pace, WW1984, which reunites director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot, could struggle to earn much more than half of that total. The sequel's slide is particularly disappointing since China, which has bounced back strongly from the novel coronavirus pandemic and is known for its affinity for superhero movies, was expected to be the title's largest theatrical market. The soft opening also doesn't augur particularly well for WarnerMedia's plan to release its entire 2021 film slate over streaming service HBO Max in North America, while relying on large international box offices to drive theatrical revenue.

The Rescue is Lam's follow-up to Operation Mekong (2016) and Operation Red Sea (2018), the latter of which earned a historic $575 million in China in 2018. Like its patriotic predecessors, The Rescue celebrates Chinese military might and heroism, this time centering on a Chinese Coast Guard team that's forced to overcome personal differences during a series of daring missions by air and sea. The film stars Lam's regular leading man Eddie Peng, along with Xin Zhilei (Crosscurrent) as a female helicopter pilot, Wang Yanlin (Operation Red Sea), Lan Yingying, Xu Yang, Li Minchen, and Wang Yutian.

The film was made for $90 million, on the high end for Chinese action films. The producers include Emperor Film Production, Tencent Pictures, Bona Film Group, Autonavi YunMap Technology, Maoyan Weying, and several state-backed entities.

The Rescue had received some negative buzz from preview screenings, but word of mouth on opening day was looking reasonably strong, with the film scoring 9.2/10 from Maoyan, 9 on Alibaba's Taopiaopiao, and 6.6 from film buff site Douban.

Social scores for WW1984 began to emerge later Friday evening in China — and the results weren't particularly encouraging. The film scored just 8/10 from Maoyan (on the bottom end for U.S. superhero films; the first WW scored 8.6), and 7.1 from Douban's users (Douban scores always skew lower than the mainstream ticketing apps'; WW had the exact same score).

Gal Gadot's Amazon warrior will need a surprise lift from somewhere — such as generous screen share from Imax China (it currently has 90 percent of the country's 700-plus giant screens this weekend), or, perhaps, strong turnout from families on Saturday and Sunday — to emerge from the weekend in stride.