Legendary’s highly-anticipated action fantasy, The Great Wall, officially released in China today. The Day One estimated take, including Thursday night previews, is $24.3M (RMB 169M). Directed by Oscar-nominee Zhang Yimou and starring Oscar-winner Matt Damon, the film’s initial numbers top last Friday’s full Middle Kingdom box office of $15.23M (RMB 106M). But while that juices local overall box office, it doesn’t mean the movie is necessarily the hit it was expected to be. The Great Wall currently has a score of 5.3 on local online ratings site Douban, out of about 26,500 people commenting. That’s not so hot.
Understood to have had about 44% of the screenings in the PROC today, the first-day result on this mega-China-U.S. co-production comes in ahead of recent releases Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them and Doctor Strange. Those are not direct comps, however. Damon’s Jason Bourne in August opened to $12.3M (on a Tuesday) and went on to a full initial extended frame of $49.3M. The final gross was $67M. The Martian last year started off with a $34M weekend and ultimately made it to $95M.
The film, which is being watched as a potential model for Hollywood/China tie-ups, is going to need some super legs to push it to the “huge” expectations that were touted by industry sources ahead of this weekend.
The release comes during a year that has seen a serious downstep in growth in the world’s second biggest box office market. China’s box office has inched up this year, but that has been stunted amid crackdowns on ticket manipulation, a drop-off in subsidies and an increasingly discerning audience.
A question remains whether a franchise can be solely built off of China and while The Great Wall clearly has the Middle Kingdom in its crosshairs, the international ante is upped by the high-profile of the team involved. Despite the downturn, studios have China on the brain. When Warcraft did its bang-up business there, one exec told me, “You don’t make a movie when you think it’s not going to work in China.”
The film marks the kick-off in earnest of Thomas Tull’s Legendary East and comes after China giant Wanda acquired Legendary in January this year. Universal is distributing the film in the rest of the world. Legendary financed with Universal, China Film Group and Le Vision Pictures. Distribution partners in the PROC are CFG, Le Vision, Wanda and Legendary East.
Wanda is key with the Legendary parent also the largest owner of Chinese movie screens at about 18% of the roughly 40,000. But so far, it doesn’t appear the reported $150M-budgeted Great Wall is getting the Warcraft treatment. That Legendary film, which released in June, had an unprecedented wide release on 67.5% of screens. It opened to $156M and went on to $221M locally.
Legendary has made a big marketing push on The Great Wall. Promotional efforts in China have included the November 15 Five Armies Press Conference and a three-day junket last week, unveiling footage for local and international press with the cast in attendance in Beijing. Well-known local talent has also been employed to provide theme and marketing songs; two of which have been chart-toppers already.
The story follows a mercenary warrior who is imprisoned within The Great Wall and discovers the mystery behind one of the greatest wonders of the world. This is Yimou’s first English-language production and the largest film ever shot entirely in China. It’s from an original screenplay by Carlo Bernard & Doug Miro and Tony Gilroy and based on a story by Max Brooks and Edward Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz.
The Great Wall is produced by Legendary CEO TUll, Charles Roven, Jon Jashni and Legendary East CEO Peter Loehr.