China Grants Hollywood Films More Favorable Spring Release Schedule

Courtesy of Disney
'Jungle Book'

Warner Bros.' 'Batman v Superman' and Disney's 'The Jungle Book' are both getting day-and-date releases in the country, while 'Gods of Egypt,' 'The Revenant' and 'London Has Fallen' have secured Friday openings.

Following China's usual February blackout on foreign film imports, Hollywood's spring release schedule in the world's second-largest film market is beginning to take shape.

The lineup is notable for the number of opening dates that U.S. studios have been given on Fridays, along with several coveted day-and-date releases. Such simultaneous debuts in the U.S. and China are believed to enhance marketing synergy and prevent box-office erosion from potential piracy or dwindling buzz.

The scheduling marks a shift from recent years when Chinese regulators often deliberately scheduled Hollywood releases to open on weekdays or Sundays, giving Chinese films the more lucrative Friday and Saturday slots.

Chinese pics have dominated the home market so far in 2016. Total box office in China for January and February hit a record of $1.6 billion, but the Hollywood studios' slice of the pie fell to an all-time low of just 17 percent. Stephen Chow's The Mermaid set a new all-time record, grossing $505 million in one month; Hollywood, meanwhile, hasn't had a film gross more than $150 million in China since Jurassic World last June ($228.7 million). In light of the Chinese industry's ascendance, it appears local regulators have decided to give Hollywood a little more rope.

Gods of Egypt will be next to launch, opening wide in China this Friday. The Lionsgate fantasy epic starring Gerard Butler will be looking to recoup some of its hefty $140 million production budget following a desultory $14.1 million U.S. debut over Oscars weekend. To date, the film has grossed $23.5 million stateside and just shy of $50 million internationally.

Alejandro Inarritu's multiple Oscar winner The Revenant is set to open across China on Friday, March 18, and Leonardo DiCaprio has committed to making his first promotional tour to the Middle Kingdom in support. The actor's star burns particularly bright in China. Although many of his recent projects haven't gotten wide exposure in Chinese cinemas, he has been affectionately known as Xiao Li, or "Little Leo," in the country since the re-release of Titanic 3D in 2012 grossed a monstrous $145 million there, nearly triple the conversion's North American haul. How The Revenant's grim story and majestic nature photography will resonate in the youth-driven China market remains to be seen. Earlier in the week, a rumor that Revenant would screen in China without cuts washed through Chinese social media, but sources with knowledge of the release plans tell The Hollywood Reporter that heavy cuts are expected.

Also debuting March 18 will be U.S.-U.K. sports biopic Eddie the Eagle, directed by Dexter Fletcher and starring Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman.

As previously reported, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has secured a day-and-date China release on Friday, March 25. Taking a page out of Disney's promotional playbook, Warner Bros. has hired Chinese pop star-turned-actor Li Yifeng to serve as an "official Batman v Superman ambassador in China." Back in December, Disney recruited Chinese pop star Lu Han to serve a similar role for Star Wars: The Force Awakens; the singer recorded a special Star Wars-themed music video and made various media appearances on behalf of the film. Both singers have massive social media followings among young Chinese women, an increasingly vital demographic as the movies have emerged as the go-to date-night activity of Chinese youth (the female side of the equation is said to often pick the picture).

Butler again will be back on Chinese screens on Friday, April 8, when London Has Fallen rolls out across the country. The mid-budget action-thriller sequel (Olympus Has Fallen was a surprise hit in 2013) has grossed a solid $23.3 million in North America since March 7. Genre vehicles in this vein have a solid track record in China, too.

Disney's The Jungle Book, meanwhile, has been set for another day-and-date studio debut on Friday, April 15. Directed by Jon Favreau, the new adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's classic features Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Lupita Nyong'o and Idris Elba, among other actors who lent their voices to CGI-created animal characters.

Disney's Zootopia was granted a day-and-date release on March 3 and has been spinning gold in China since. The film opened to $23.7 million, the best ever for a Disney animated release. Since the weekend, it has benefited from both superb word of mouth and a media uproar surrounding competitor Ip Man 3, which won the weekend but stands accused of box-office manipulation. Zootopia's cume stands at $40 million after five days, and a $100 million-plus run seems increasingly likely.