“Skyfall” in China: Good, Bad or Ugly?

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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

January 31, 2013

Skyfall finished its opening week in China last Sunday with a $35 million 6-day gross, a figure that only a handful of films have matched or exceeded in their PRC debuts.

So does that mean Skyfall can be considered a hit?

I wouldn’t say so.Box office week ending 1-27-13

Given the China results of prior Bond films Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, given Skyfall‘s massive success outside of China, and especially given the $102 million total mainland gross of last January’s comparable action film Mission Impossible 4, I believe Skyfall would need to reach $130 million in its China run to be considered a success there.

But given its current trajectory after 10 days in release, with a second week drop so far of nearly fifty percent, it seems likely the film will wind up with only about half that $130 million benchmark number.

So if my projection is accurate, Skyfall will earn less than 6 percent of its worldwide box office receipts in China. The average Hollywood film released in the PRC this year will earn about 11 or 12 percent of its worldwide revenue in that market.

Consider Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. When those films played in China, both were solid hits that ranked among the top 7 or 8 grossers in their respective years. Quantum of Solace grossed a then-impressive $20 million back in 2008, at a time when China’s total annual box office was only a fifth the size that it will reach in 2013. By that metric, Skyfall ought to gross at least $100 million.Skyfall vs comps

For reasons I expressed in an article last week, Mission Impossible 4 is a reasonable and logical comp for Skyfall, and because the Chinese market has grown 30 percent since last January, Skyfall ought to be running 30 percent ahead of Mission Impossible‘s 2012 numbers. But in fact Skyfall is now running about 30 percent behind.

So I don’t think Skyfall can rightly be termed a hit in China. Not “ugly,” not “bad,” but not very good either.

In other box office news, the latest installment of the “Pleasant Goat” serties, The Mythical Ark, opened with $10 million, about 15 percent off from last January’s installment. The franchise is showing its age, but since the films only cost a reported $3 million each to produce and they consistently gross at least $20 million, it’s likely that Toonmax will continue to churn them out.

Another underperforming opener was Mysterious Island 2, the sequel to the 2011 hit horror flick. The prior film wound up with a $14 million PRC gross, but the sequel scared up just $920,000 in its 2-day weekend debut.

The smash hit Lost in Thailand finally ended its run on Sunday with just over $200 million. The $3-4 million budgeted comedy became only the second film in Chinese box office history after Avatar to exceed $200 million, and only the second non-U.S. film (after Japan’s Spirited Away) ever to gross over $200 million in its home territory.

All told, cumulative box office for the week was $60 million, a ten percent shortfall from the same week last year.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com.

‘Life of Pi’ Washes Up a Wave of Cash in China

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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

November 27, 2012

Strong word of mouth and a weekend surge in attendance led Life of Pi to a surprising box office win last week over the 3D re-release of Roland Emmerich’s 2012. The Ang Lee directed adventure-drama (Chinese title: 少年派的奇幻漂流, or “Young Pi’s Rafting Fantasy”) netted $17 million in its four-day opening, versus a six-day total of $14.7 million for 2012.

After two weeks at the top of the box office, Hong Kong actioner Cold War slipped by 49 percent to a $7.5 million haul. The film has edged out Silent War and now stands as the second highest-grossing Chinese language film so far this year, at $38.4 million.

A pair of animation imports from Hollywood, Wreck–It Ralph and Rise of the Guardians, landed in fourth and fifth places, with $1.37 million and $1.14 million respectively. As is so often the case with non-sequel animated films, neither film has indexed well in China: Ralph will finish in fifth place among all 2012 animated releases in the PRC—notably, behind the Chinese cartoons Pleasant Goat and I Love Wolffy—and Rise of the Guardians will be lucky to crack the top ten (although it will probably surpass Pixar’s latest China misfire, Brave).

Three significant factors are driving Life of Pi’s success: Its strong IMAX/3D footprint; high praise from critics and cultural influencers; and the drawing power of the film’s director, Ang Lee.

China is one of IMAX’s top countries, not only in terms of screen count, but also in revenue per screen. According to anecdotal reports I’m hearing, Life of Pi enjoyed IMAX’s third biggest ever launch in the PRC, behind Avatar and Titanic 3D.

Critics praised the film not only for its lush imagery and superb direction, but also for its Asian viewpoint and deep philosophical essence. And after viewing the film such high profile stars as  Lee HomCarina Lau and Shu Qi urged their millions of social media followers to come out and see the picture, helping to trigger a big weekend turnout.

Filmgoers wait on a long line to see ‘Life of Pi’ at a Shenzhen theater.

Finally, China’s filmgoers respond at least as much to top directors as they do to stars. Only a handful of directors have true drawing power, and Ang Lee is one of them. Life of Pi has a shot at topping $50 million in China; the only thing that might hold it back is a competing release from another marquee director, Feng Xiaogang (Aftershock, If You Are the One). It will be a surprise to many if Feng’s new film Back to 1942, which opens on Wednesday, November 29th, doesn’t break all records and become the highest-grossing Chinese language film ever.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com.