2ND UPDATE, TUESDAY AM: Adding to the WoW-za advance ticket sales that have been crafted by Legendary and Universal’s Warcraft in China comes a new record just as midnight shows are in full swing in the Middle Kingdom. The official bow is tomorrow, and with it, Duncan Jones’ feature take on Blizzard Entertainment’s video game phenom will be playing on an unprecedented 67.5% of all screens. The previous record holder for widest release was Universal’s own Furious 7 last year. It bowed on 62.8% of screens and went on to final at $391M, setting a new benchmark at the time.
There are 39,000 total screens in the PROC. Wanda now owns Legendary, and its exhibition circuit has 18% of those. That relationship clearly is helping here, while others are booking Warcraft with Orc-like gusto. The film also has equity investment from local partners Tencent, China Film Group, Huayi and Taihe. The fantasy action picture, which is not a Universal title in China, is going out through CFG and Huaxia.
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We’ll continue following this beast’s invasion as it progresses over the next several days…
PREVIOUS, MONDAY: Legendary Pictures and Universal Pictures’ big-screen adaptation of Blizzard Entertainment’s video game juggernaut, Warcraft, hits China on June 8, two days ahead of its North American release. This is a savvy move to target the world’s second largest box office market — which has a long and fervent history with the game — during a holiday period. Pre-sales are through the roof and climbing. But along with possibly setting new box office benchmarks, a Middle Kingdom win for Warcraft will also be a key moment for Legendary and its burgeoning relationship with Wanda .
Opening estimates on Warcraft’s five-day launch range from $100 million on the conservative end to about $150M. In local currency, I’ve been hearing 800M rmb to a possible 1B rmb which would put the range at $122M-$152M.
The Duncan Jones-helmed fantasy actioner has logged 136 rmb ($20.7M) in advance ticket sales as of Monday evening locally and currently has the third-highest midnight pre-sales total of all time, behind Furious 7 and Avengers: Age Of Ultron; it will pass the latter today. All of the 285 midnight Imax screenings have been sold out at 5.5M rmb ($837K); that tops record holder Furious 7’s 5.4M rmb ($822K at today’s exchange rates). Midnights kick off Tuesday night.
IMAX pre-sales for the full weekend are currently at $6M giving the format its best PROC advances ever. The Orcs and trolls have topped Captain America: Civil War’s $3.7M which was logged as of the day before opening. Azeroth will be seen in the Middle Kingdom in both 2D and 3D theaters.
Given all of those numbers, some are speculating that Warcraft could outpace Furious 7’s $391M total box office which set a record last year as the highest-grossing movie ever in the Middle Kingdom. It has since been overtaken by local titles The Mermaid and Monster Hunt.
There is no question that Warcraft is a monster itself, although there are a couple of factors to keep in mind when comping to Universal’s own F7. That film opened on a Sunday, logging the highest box office, widest release and biggest attendance ever in one day for China with 420 rmb ($68.8M) at the time. The Orcs invade Chinese theaters officially on Wednesday, coming at the end of the high school exams period and as the Dragon Boat Festival holiday kicks in on Thursday. As one person put it, “that’s like having five Saturdays in a row” although some people will be working.
This is not a Universal release in China where it is going out through Legendary, China Film Group and Huaxia. (I understand Universal is in for about 25%-30% of the full reported $160M budget and it will reap the benefits of all releases as part of the overall pie.) This is a quota movie, meaning a 25% return from Middle Kingdom turnstiles. Legendary has four local equity partners: Tencent, CFG, Huayi and Taihe.
The Dalian Wanda Group of course acquired Legendary in a stunning $3.5B deal in January, but had already pledged its muscle behind the film back in September when it said it would use its network to promote and market Warcraft. Wanda and CFG’s involvement here means the film will make a bigscreen invasion. Total counts aren’t divulged until just before opening, but as one watcher puts it, “It will get the most showtimes from when it opens on Wednesday.” I’m already hearing that on Tuesday night there are 2:30 AM showings being added after the midnights. It is also possible that screenings run from Wednesday as early as 7:30 AM and going through to 4AM.
The offshore total box office through Sunday was at an estimated $70M. Reviews have not been out of this world of Warcraft, but that’s not stopping the rush. Strong plays in Russia and Germany have helped to drive that, although the UK ended up being somewhat frontloaded this past week. Gamers have raced out to see Azeroth realized in a feature version, while fantasy fans have also picked up the joystick.
No doubt the film skews male, but it is expected to move beyond gamers in China. If it reaches critical mass at open, it should continue to have momentum above the initial rush. A key factor in bringing girls and women into the multiplexes is local heartthrob Daniel Wu who starred in last year’s hit, Go Away Mr Tumor. He has been on the promotional circuit, doing a Q&A this past week with co-star Paula Patton at the Beijing Film Academy and getting the word out via Instagram and other social media. Travis Fimmel, Ben Foster and Dominic Cooper also star.
Warcraft has 26 different Chinese brand partners involved in the marketing and tie-ins which is larger than any film before it by a factor of two. Among them are Lenovo and Tsingtao – but this isn’t product placement, so don’t expect Anduin Lothar to be knocking back a beer in the film.
Legendary began pulling out the marketing stops about 18 months ago with The Legendary Warcraft Experience at Joycity in Chengdu. There, fans got “the biggest free movie-themed exhibition ever mounted in China” which featured character statues, and over 150 props, weapons and costumes from the film. Fans were also able to take part in a virtual reality ride on the back of the mythical Gryphon as it flew over Azeroth.
China, which has a penchant for fantasy, has had a decade-long fascination with World Of Warcraft; its name there is understood to translate to “World Of Magical Beasts.” The market is estimated to make up about half of the game’s five million players, according to the BBC. The history has been fraught at times, however, as the government exercized controls over the years — only serving to increase the game’s popularity.
In the early days, when the 3D rendered worlds were first made available, it caused a seismic shift in Chinese gaming. The University of Edinburgh’s Lara Arnason recently told The Telegraph that as players were drawn together in the physical spaces of internet cafes and the online realms, “It was the first converged media experience. People were able to form real friendships, and have shared experiences and shared failures, with real online communities of real people. It quite literally changed the game.”
If Warcraft hits as expected in China, it kicks off the Legendary/Wanda relationship in a big way. It will also be an interesting moment in the changing landscape of the international movie business. While it could surprise based on the momentum being generated offshore, Warcraft is looking at about a $25M domestic opening this coming frame. But being a beast in the Middle Kingdom, and coming off those German, Russian and other numbers, encourages the likelihood of a franchise. The film’s subtitle is The Beginning so the sequel seed has already been sown. A source says, “The world is changing with China becoming a bigger and bigger piece. When you have a film that can really play internationally and very strongly in China, maybe that allows you to take a risk and the opportunity to make a franchise out of international. China has more and more of a role to play.”
Another source contends, “The movie makes its money back. China and Russia are nothing but good news for Legendary and Wanda.”
Warcraft producers are Charles Roven, Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Alex Gartner and Stuart Fenegan. Jillian Share, Brent O’Connor, Michael Morhaime and Paul Sams are exec producers. Rob Pardo, Chris Metzen, Nick Carpenter and Rebecca Steel Roven co-produce.
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