As noted here and there over the last week, China is having a record-crushing run at the moment. Thanks to four big new releases over the New Year’s Day holiday, the Chinese box office has grossed over $900 million last week. That is the biggest week-long cume for any market on record. For reference, the week that Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened earned around $495m in total domestic box office in late 2015. But as a general rule, even during the Christmas season, 800-pound gorillas don’t tend to open right on top of each other. Last week, four huge Chinese pictures, including three big sequels, all opened on the same day and all achieved varying levels of success.
For those who came in late, Monster Hunt 2 (which opened in 70 domestic theaters courtesy of Lionsgate) set a record for a single day gross in China, earning $86 million last Friday while Detective Chinatown 2 (which played in 115 domestic theaters last weekend thanks to Warner Bros./Time Warner Inc.) earned $59m. By the end of the weekend, Monster Hunt 2 had $188m (including online ticketing fees), Detective Chinatown 2 had $155m, Monkey King 3 (which played in 34 theaters in North America right alongside its China debut) had opened with a $75.6m Fri-Sun frame and Operation Red Sea (a non-sequel, Wolf Warrior 2-ish real-world action thriller) had $69m. The Fri-Sun cume for all movies last weekend was a jaw-dropping $506m just for the Fri-Sun frame, way above the $303m Fri-Sun record set in December of 2015 in North America during The Force Awakens’ $248m opening weekend.
And, yeah, as you’ll notice, this wasn’t one movie making around 81% of all domestic box office, but at least four very big Chinese biggies getting their own piece of a huge pie. As of Thursday, the frontloaded Monster Hunt 2 has earned ¥1.721 billion ($271 million) in its first week, while Detective Chinatown 2 has earned a whopping (and leggy) ¥2.008b ($315m). Operation Red Sea has legged it to around ¥1.3622b ($215m) while the frontloaded The Monkey King 3 has earned “just” ¥600.6 million ($94m) after a $75.6m Fri-Sun frame. So, yes, as local sequels and franchises become more common in China, word of mouth and post-debut buzz will darn sure make a difference there as well.
We’re getting to a point, perhaps faster than anticipated, when the Chinese movie market has enough local brands, IP and franchise-friendly fare of its own to not necessarily require as much Hollywood content. And since all of the above-noted films were cheap enough to not require overseas box office, they don’t have to pander to outside markets. And as we’ve seen this week, when four movies opened on the same day and earned over $850 million in the first week of release, there is more than enough to go around in terms of available screens and available moviegoers. Heck, in China, Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman probably could have opened on the same day.
Those four newbies alone accounted for $894 million in seven days’ worth of Chinese box office revenue. This may be the year that China conquers America and becomes the world’s biggest moviegoing marketplace. But the big problem for Hollywood is that they seem to be doing it without requiring American tentpoles.