It’s already been out for six months elsewhere, but Despicable Me 2 drew big numbers in its opening in China. The film bowed in China on Friday, the first major U.S. title to debut in the country this year – and its last territory worldwide. The animated sequel took 25M yuan or $4.13M on 3,000 screens on opening day, giving the Universal and Illumination Entertainment film the biggest first-day gross for an animated movie in China since Ice Age 4 in 2012, according to the studio. DM2‘s first weekend in China is projected to hit $14M for an international cume of $567.1M, making it the 4th highest-grossing animated film of all time overseas. Combined with its domestic take, the estimated worldwide total is expected to be $935.1M on Sunday. By Tuesday, I’m told DM2 should surpass Finding Nemo to become the 3rd highest-grossing animated film ever worldwide behind Toy Story 3 and The Lion King. It remains to be seen whether DM2 can pass Jurassic Park as Universal’s top-grossing film of all time. It had already become the studio’s highest-grossing ‘first-release’ film ever, surpassing the original JP‘s $921M in the past few weeks. However, in order to outgross JP with its 3D re-release factored in, it would need to do over $1.1B worldwide. With China its last territory, plus the fact that Chinese New Year starts at the end of January meaning local pics will flood the market, I understand that record is likely to hold.
Regardless, Despicable Me 2‘s performance in China is especially notable given that it comes six months after its international roll out began. So how did Universal pull it off in a country that’s so notorious for piracy? Universal Pictures President, International, David Kosse tells me the studio was “thrilled to have the movie go in, but we had to acknowledge that over six months, people had seen it.” So, a means to entice folks to theaters needed to be devised. Figuring that since the many who may have had access to a pirated version would have seen one that was subtitled or done with a sub-par dub, the studio did a “proper, great Mandarin dub with local voices that (Chinese audiences) know,” Kosse says. The voice of Gru was handled by Deng Chao, whose got a host of TV and film credits including the recently released The Four II and American Dreams In China. Agnes was played by Cindy Tian Yucheng who became famous after appearing on reality show, Where Are We Going Dad? The pair each has a big following on social media in China, a key element. They also were flown to LA, where a City Walk photo op was picked up by local press. Importantly, says Kosse, “We didn’t say ‘Come see Despicable Me 2.’ We said, ‘Come see it in an all new way with these people doing the voices’.” The 3D IMAX aspect was also a big part of the campaign for the film whose local title was translated to Super Thief Nanny 2. The first film was never released locally, but Universal made sure it was available on CCTV6 and via streaming on Youku so that people could get a refresher or familiarize themselves. Along with all of this, DM2 also benefited from the lack of U.S. films in the marketplace for several weeks which created an extra thirst. The end of 2013 was crowded with local movies, and prior to that it was Hollywood dramas and actioners that were on release. The last spate of major studio animated films to be seen in China came towards the end summer and start of fall 2013.