Kung Fu Panda 3 begins its international rollout Thursdayin Korea and Russia, then hits the sweet spot of China on Friday. The threequel also is getting an anticipated U.S. day-and-date release on Friday. KFP3 is a made by Oriental DreamWorks and DreamWorks Animation and benefits from status as a local film. ODW, under the stewardship of Jeffrey Katzenberg, has spent years establishing itself in the Middle Kingdom after officially unveiling in early 2012, with this title on the slate from September of that year. Expectations are high in China for the film which is going out in two versions and should see a major kick-off this weekend with very conservative Middle Kingdom bow estimates coming in at $35M and rising to well upwards of $50M. Domestically, as my colleague Anthony D’Alessandro has reported, a weekend in the $40M range should be expected. I’m told that the China weekend and ultimate box office will be bigger, hands-down, than North America. Mid-weeks in the Middle Kingdom can be tough on some Hollywood fare outside the major cities, but this hybrid is expected to perform in the outliers.
Looking back over the years, the Kung Fu Panda movies have grown with the Chinese market. The first one made $26M in 2008. The second one released in 2011 to a rough final total of $92M. There have been five years of growth in the market since then while Po, Jack Black’s eponymous bear, has become nearly as familiar to local kids and families as Mickey Mouse, some say.
Previews came in last Saturday to a record-breaking start of $6.4M in just three hours and amid almost as bad weather as the U.S. East Coast. Word of mouth was strong. The previous Saturday preview record holder was Surprise: Journey To The West, a movie that was dropped into cinemas late in November 2015. That film seemed to come out of nowhere and did not leg out during the subsequent December blackout; it was seen by some as more of a means to stymie Hollywood pics before the end of the year.
KFP3 is a different story. It’s the first major global title to come after Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which has dominated Middle Kingdom box office since January 9. And, it has a lot of built-in awareness which will lend itself to the ultimate 40% share it takes of box office after. Most recent promotional efforts have inclued a Beijing press conference back in November and a Shanghai premiere a week ago with Jack Black, Jackie Chan and Kate Hudson in attendance. Social media magnet Lu Han, who has recently doubled as the Force Awakens ambassador, released a KFP3 music video in December and superstar singer-songwriter Jay Chou provies the movie’s theme song.
Particularly notable with this film is that there are two versions. One is the global English-language take while the other is in Mandarin and has actually been reanimated to fit body movements and vernacular of the local voice cast including Jackie Chan. Meanwhile, Raman Hui, a DreamWorks veteran and director of the highest-grossing PROC movie ever, Monster Hunt, lent his consultation to the film.
There could potentially be a PROC bottleneck on KFP3‘s second weekend which starts the Lunar New Year blackout. But given the film’s status, it has special privilege to run throughout the period and is also not limited to the 30 days that rein in straight quota films. All films during the period are in fact expected to do bang-up business. One industry watcher suggests that as the New Year films move in, they and KFP3 could provide one of the biggest collective 10-day grosses ever.
In Korea, DWA licenses its movies to CJ Entertainment and the film will open Thursday. Previous installments have increased from $29M on the first one to $41M on the last.
As for Russia, Fox releases on behalf of DWA and this should chop to the top of the charts. The market tends to like DWA titles and is fast-burn, so getting two potential weeks of play here is key. KFP1 did $20.5M an KFP2 jumped to $32M.
The rest of international rollout won’t come until March. The strategy behind such a staggered release was to take advantage of certain opportunistic dates which presented themselves. We’ll keep an eye on China and the rest of the debut markets this weekend.