Bollywood is speaking to Chinese film-goers with a Hindi-language hit that’s outdrawing “Star Wars” in a market that Hollywood has staked out for making big-budget blockbusters pay.
“Secret Superstar,” the tale of a 14-year-old Muslim-Indian girl who strives to become a singer, has topped China’s box office since its local release on Jan. 19, surpassing sales for “Star Wars: Last Jedi,” according to ticketing-data provider Maoyan.
The second straight hit in China for Bollywood actor-producer Aamir Khan, “Secret Superstar” underscores how quickly the world’s second-biggest film market is evolving from franchise fare like Universal Pictures’ “Fast & Furious” installments to a taste for films from all around the world. Based on results from the past 12 months alone, hits from India, Thailand and Spain show China’s box-office may already be less blockbuster-centric than America’s.
Thailand’s “Bad Genius,” about two poor but brilliant students who make a living helping rich kids cheat on standardized tests, generated $41 million in 2017 — 13 times its Thailand sales. Spanish-language thriller “Contratiempo” (The Invisible Guest) grossed $26 million in the mainland in 2017, sixfold more than at home, according to Boxofficemojo.com. Those respective Chinese grosses would be enough to rank among the all-time top 10 for foreign-language releases for North America, where only three films have ever exceeded $50 million.
English-language films from Hollywood remain the dominant import to China, helped by an agreement under World Trade Organization rules under which China has imported about 34 films a year on revenue-sharing basis from the U.S.
There is still no magic formula for success in Chinese theaters.
Two tales from Hollywood’s “Fast and Furious” series rank among the country’s top 5 earners in history. But some “Star Wars” tales have been lackluster. Pixar’s animated “Coco” scored about $190 million in China last year, almost matching its North America sales, while Walt Disney Co.’s “Cars 3” barely reached $20 million, compared with more than $150 million in the U.S., according to Boxofficemojo.com.