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HONG KONG — Theater operators in mainland China were ordered to cease scheduling screenings for The Croods on Thursday in a move largely seen as clearing space for already released local animation films and a state-backed Chinese blockbuster opening Saturday.
The DreamWorks Animation hit was originally slated to end its run June 24, but theater management received a verbally conveyed directive from the authorities at about 2 p.m. Thursday to stop screening the film from today onward, a Guangzhou-based cinema chain manager told The Hollywood Reporter on the condition of anonymity.
In the verbal directive resembling the one he received April 10 about cancelling screenings of Django Unchained — in which theater management was requested to even stop already-begun screenings — an official from the country’s film regulators told the manager to also refund customers who had bought tickets for advance screenings.
The manager said he was “not surprised” by the sudden request. “You just have to look at the box-office figures, and you understand why,” he added.
The Croods has been a towering success compared to the lackluster box-office returns of the three homegrown animation films released June 1. While the imported blockbuster has generated ticket sales of $63.7 million (391 million yuan) as of Thursday, the collective gross for local animations Happy Little Submarine 3: Rainbow Treasure, The Adventures of Sinbad 2013 and Kuiba 2 are less than $16.28 million (100 million yuan).
The Croods has proved to be a slow-burning success in China and was still generating healthy returns in the country in its seventh week. On Thursday, the film still had about 3,000 screenings, which amounted to roughly 5 percent of the total showings across the country for the day, according to figures from Chinese media information consultants Entgroup.
More impressively, the film has continuously had a high number of viewers per show. Entgroup’s statistics showed that the film generated an average of 12 customers per screening on Thursday, a figure not far behind the much more recently released Star Trek Into Darkness (15) and American Dreams in China (13). In contrast, the Chinese animation films were registering at most “five or six people” per show, the Guangzhou-based cinema manager told THR.
Released in the country on April 20, The Croods was originally slated to end its run May 21. But the film’s swelling popularity – with earnings actually increasing rather than decreasing during the course of the first two weeks of its run, culminating in its third-week revenue of $20 million (122.7 million yuan) – led to the film getting a screening extension to June 21.
Chinese social media was abuzz with critical comments directed at China’s film regulators after news broke of the enforced termination of The Croods’ run in the country, with some speculating that the move was an effort to clear the way for local productions opening during the weekend.
Among the Chinese-language films to be released Saturday is Switch, a heist thriller starring Hong Kong’s Andy Lau, Taiwan’s Lin Chi-ling and mainland Chinese actress Zhang Jingzhu. The film now stands in a good position to make a killing at the box office as the country prepares for a three-day holiday break that runs from Monday (June 10) to Wednesday (June 12), with the Guangdong-based cinema manager telling THR that the film could expect to take up at least 30 percent of total screens in the country when it opens.
No Hollywood blockbusters were scheduled to open in China during the first three weeks of June. The Paramount-backed Star Trek Into Darkness was the most recent import to have taken its bow in the country on May 28, with Man of Steel scheduled to unspool June 20.
This Hollywood-free window mirrors the many occasions in recent years when the country’s film regulators cleared schedules of imports so as to allow local productions to have a clear run in theaters. Last year, The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man were denied July release dates and forced to open during the same week in late August – a decision that led local fantasy blockbuster Painted Skin: Resurrection to generate a then record-breaking haul of $118.3 million (726.4 million yuan) at the Chinese box office.
The China Film Group, which distributes imported films and decides when they are to be released, was unavailable for comment Friday about the end of The Croods’ run. THR could not reach DreamWorks Animation for clarification on the matter, but company reps were quoted in the Chinese press as saying how the China Film Group and the official Film Bureau, rather than the producers themselves, are responsible for the scheduling of releases in the country.
Some Weibo users also pointed out how this intervention would again adversely affect China’s reputation as a film market, following the way Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained was first approved for release on April 10 and then taken off screens when the first screenings were already under way that day – with reports suggesting the country’s censors took issue with the film’s nudity and violence. Django was eventually re-edited and rereleased May 10 but flopped spectacularly, taking just $2.5 million during its monthlong run.
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