Guillaume Canet’s ambitious 64M euros ($70M) production Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom was on track to be the top opener at the French box office on Wednesday, but it remains to be seen whether the film can match the success of its predecessors.
Pathé released the title on 950 screens across France in the biggest theatrical launch of early 2023 for local productions. The mini-major bankrolled the film and is also a producer alongside Alain Attal’s Tresor Films and Yohan Baiada at Les Enfants Terribles.
In first figures for the Paris region, which can be a bellwether for box office performance across the rest of the country, especially for mainstream local productions like Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom, the film scored the strongest opening.
By 2 pm local time, the film had drawn 9,091 spectators in 84 theaters, split between 3,274 admissions on 29 screens in the city and 5,817 admissions in outer Paris.
By comparison, Alain Chabat’s seminal 2002 hit Asterix And Obelix: Mission Cleopatra scored 8,818 ticket sales on 28 Paris screens alone on its opening day. It went on to clock 14.5M admissions ($74M) at home and 10M ($108M) internationally.
Like Chabat’s earlier hit, Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom has opened on the first Wednesday of February. This is traditionally a popular theatrical launch date for big mainstream local titles in France, with other past hits opening on this slot including Would I Lie To You? 2 (2001) and Dany Boon’s Nothing To Declare (2010).
Opening now also gives the film a two-week window before the arrival of Marvel blockbuster Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania on February 15. In the meantime, it remains to be seen whether Asterix & Obelix can dislodge Avatar: The Way Of Water from the top slot it has held for seven weeks since mid-December for 12.7M ticket sales.
First announced in 2020, Canet’s Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom sees its iconic comic book heroes come to the aid of a Chinese princess in an adventure that will also bring them up against nemesis Caesar.
Canet directs and stars as Asterix in an all-star ensemble cast also featuring Gilles Lellouche as Obelix, Vincent Cassel as Julius Caesar, Marion Cotillard as Cleopatra and Swedish soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimović as Caesar’s bodyguard Antivirus.
Much rides on the performance of the film.
Pathé and the wider local film industry hope the feature will bring audiences back to cinemas for local productions, after a difficult 2022 in which not a single French-language film made it into the top ten at the box office.
For Pathé it is also a test of its strategy to invest in local big-budget, tentpole fare, swashbucklers The Three Musketeers – D’Artagnan and The Three Musketeers – Milady later this year.
Reviews and other press coverage have not been on the film’s side.
Daily newspaper Le Parisien said the film was “entertaining but lacked modernity, irreverence and madness” in a review headlined, “Why The Magic Potion doesn’t fizz”.
Le Point magazine said the feature had failed to rise to the exciting premise of sending Asterix and Obelix to China and that the performances lacked cohesion.
“Instead of embarking on an epic story, the film consists of a series of sketches in which everyone does their number without worrying about the ensemble effect,” it wrote.
The notoriously tough Libération newspaper said the production’s “shoulders were too weak” to carry the burden of reinvigorating French cinema.
“Stuffed with too many ideas that fall flat, the potion pot turns out to be very cold,” it wrote.
There has also been debate over Canet’s comments that if the movie flops, finance for future big-budget local films will dry up as well as reports that he will receive a 1M euros ($1.09M) pay-out if the movie tops seven million admissions, even though the latter remuneration is not off the scale.
Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom is the 14th feature film, and eighth live-action movie, to be adapted from or inspired by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo’s iconic comic books.
In a sign of the lasting popularity of Chabat’s Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra, the 2002 title has been enjoying a mini-revival on the back of the media coverage around Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom.
A free-to-air, prime-time broadcast on TF1 topped the audience charts on January 30, drawing 4.98M viewers, for a 24.6% share of the audience, while Chabat has also been trending on Twitter alongside Canet in the lead-up to the new film’s release.
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