Opening as the No. 1 movie in China this weekend, local 3D adventure fantasy Time Raiders scored a $64.6M debut. The pic, directed by Dragon Blade‘s Daniel Lee and starring Star Wars ambassador Lu Han, was the No. 3 title internationally, behind Suicide Squad and The Secret Life of Pets, when factoring in the latter’s full China frame, which began Tuesday. Including previews, Time Raiders lifts to $70M, per comScore, and gives the Middle Kingdom a needed jolt in a less-than-sizzling summer. July’s takings were off 18.6% from 2015 following a second quarter that saw box office down 4.6%, the first time in five years that such a decline has been witnessed in the rapidly expanding market. What’s causing the shifts?
The July drop is in stark contrast to February, when Chinese cinemas collected more than those in North America for the first time ever. Overall growth in the first semester was a reported 22%, but that was down from the similar period in 2015 and was top-heavy with the market’s biggest release ever, The Mermaid at about $527M.
There are five Chinese films in the Top 10 for the first semester of 2016 and none from July, when the unofficial blackout period typically sees Hollywood sidelined. “Local films just aren’t resonating like they did last year,” says one industry source who nevertheless expects a reversal to come. Box office for the Top 10 movies of the year to date is roughly 56% weighted to the Middle Kingdom.
The only Chinese film from the summer to cross $100M, Jackie Chan/Johnny Knoxville-starrer Skiptrace, kicked off with a $60M+ debut in July and has now grossed over $125M. Conversely, the star-studded League Of Gods fell hard in its second week, inching above $40M. From Le Vision Pictures, Time Raiders also stars Jing Boran of last year’s Monster Hunt. It’s based on the book series Grave Robbers’ Chronicle, about the adventures of a young man from a family of tomb-raiders. The IMAX portion of the release was $5M.
The film continued to perform at the top of the charts on Monday, but could face competition tomorrow. Despite reports of China banning Korean entertainers over the THAAD controversy, romance pic Never Said Goodbye, starring Korean heartthrob Lee Joon-gi, is still dated for release tomorrow to coincide with the Qixi Festival, China’s Valentine’s Day.
Looking at the overall downturn, another mooted reason is the government’s vow to crack down on the practice of inflating box office which saw last year’s July release Monster Hunt stick around for a 60-day run and exceed Furious 7 in local currency to become the then all-time champ. Amid reports of empty but sold out screenings every 15 minutes, producer Edko Pictures admitted to giving away $6.2M worth of tickets near the end of the run and said it was instituting serious criticism to those involved at the ground level.
The authorities did prove reactive this year, slapping the distributor of March’s Ip Man 3 with a one-month suspension for fraud. But some sources believe manipulation continues and has negatively affected moviegoers who can’t see films they want — instead opting out of going to the movies at all. That affects both local and foreign fare.
There have been some olive branches handed to Hollywood by China this year. The PROC powers that be gave both Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows (which has Chinese investment) and The Legend Of Tarzan some coveted July real estate, ostensibly to better prospects when it became clear that the month wouldn’t produce a major local title. Earlier in the year, Disney’s Zootopia was granted a rare extension and is the highest-grossing U.S. movie of 2016 at about $236M. Warcraft got a boost from its local partners and is just behind Zoo at $221M. But what’s on deck for fall is still something of a question mark.
Last year, we saw the tactic of double-dating and few Friday releases granted for Hollywood. Currently, Jason Bourne is due on August 23, as is Ice Age: Collision Course. Star Trek Beyond, also with Chinese investment, is set for September 2. More dates will become clearer soon. Studios are generally informed about 30 days before a film is officially scheduled. That’s a frustration in Hollywood as it makes marketing and promotion — ie getting busy talent to Beijing — all the more difficult. This is one of the issues Hollywood would likely want to see addressed as a new U.S.-China contract is to be negotiated for 2017, updating the February 2012 agreement that saw the Middle Kingdom increase quotas and revenue share for the studios.