Fox/Lightstorm’s Alita: Battle Angel took the fight to China today with an estimated $19.8M opening Friday. That includes $1M in limited Thursday midnights. An opening in the $50M zone had been expected, then buzz increased this week. With Friday’s start, the full frame is now looking at a three-day upwards of $60M. The international box office total on Alita is $115M through Thursday and worldwide it’s at $163.7M (this does not include China).

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Alita is the first Hollywood movie in China following the Lunar New Year holiday rush on local titles which has blanketed the past few weeks. The Robert Rodriguez-directed, James Cameron-produced adaptation got a boost on Monday when the filmmakers and talent visited Beijing. Cameron is revered in the Middle Kingdom and was greeted at a press conference by such local directors as Zhang Yimou, Wuershan and The Wandering Earth‘s Frant Gwo. In a smart stroke of synergy, Cameron sat for a Q&A with Liu Cixin — the author of The Wandering Earth‘s source novella — and highly praised the resulting blockbuster film. He was also interviewed by that film’s director.

If Alita has a competitor this weekend, it’s New Year holdover The Wandering Earth. A sci-fi epic, the phenomenon is the No. 2 film ever in the market and has grossed $621M through today. However, Alita is expected to dominate with strong buzz and as Wandering Earth has already had 18 days of release.

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Alita has an 8.9 score on ticketing platform Maoyan and a 7.6 on reviews aggregator Douban. That’s below Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One from last year which had an 8.7 Douban rating, but word of mouth is strong. The films have similar underdog vs The Man themes, and a hope would be to see Alita emulate the success that RP1 enjoyed in 2018 when it bowed to $61.7M and cumed over $218M in the Middle Kingdom. That included an extended run with the film also tapping into video game culture. Alita has some runway ahead before Captain Marvel takes flight on March 8.

Overall, Asia is the big driver on the expensive Alita which comes with a reported $170M cost before P&A — or as Cameron recently put it, a “battle-cruiser class of budgets.” Fox did well to release it early in many SE Asia markets in order to tap into the Chinese New Year holidays with an initial weekend of $32M two frames ago.

This past weekend, the Rosa Salazar-starrer added another $56.8M in 86 markets, coming in higher than expected. It also outperformed tracking domestically, though overseas was always the play here and the film will rely on international to carry the bulk of the box office. Sources believe Alita is eyeing a global tally above $400M, though it remains a tough break-even proposition and only recoups 25% of Chinese turnstiles. Still, if Cameron has his way, sequels could certainly be afoot. The director told Reuters, “If people show up, we’re definitely going to do at least one more if not two. It’s mapped out for three in total.”

With Friday’s estimates, China immediately becomes to top overseas market on Alita, edging out Korea which has grossed $15.5M through today. Also bowing this weekend is Japan, the birthplace of author Yukito Kishiro’s manga source material Gunnm. With the film in previews there last weekend, some avid fans had already seen it in a cinema as many as four times.