Daniel Radcliffe Starrer ‘Woman in Black’ Falls Flat in Soft Week at Chinese Box Office


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

September 25, 2012

Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe couldn’t bring his magic to the China debut of his horror vehicle The Woman in Black, and two new Chinese language releases—Great Rescue and That Year School Ended—failed to connect as China’s box office take slipped last week to $29 million, its lowest level since March.

Although the last four Harry Potter films were solid hits in China, that franchise’s popularity failed to carry over to Woman in Black, which suffered one of the year’s worst openings for an English language film, with $1.45 million in receipts over its first four days. Among 2012’s nearly 50 English language releases so far, only The Lincoln Lawyer, The King’s Speech, A Man Apart and Ninja have fared worse.

Horror still hasn’t firmly established itself as a reliable genre in China. A few modest Chinese language successes like Bunshinsaba ($9.5 million total), Blood Stained Shoes ($7.2 million), and 2011’s Mysterious Island ($14 million), have been outnumbered by flops. It may be that Chinese audiences haven’t yet caught on to the pleasures of a good scary movie, but it’s more likely that the problem lies in China’s censorship strictures, which don’t allow much room for a true horror film, with blood, gore, torture, ghosts, demons, and “excessively terrifying scenes” all strictly prohibited.

On a brighter note for Chinese filmmakers, White Deer Plain out-grossed The Expendables 2 to take the week’s number one spot, the first time in a month that a Chinese film has taken that honor. Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises, and the Amazing Spider-Man, all nearing the end of their PRC runs, rounded out the rest of the top five.

Business should be brisk next week as six new Chinese films and the U.S.-China co-pro Looper will open just ahead of October’s Golden Week holiday. Look for the Stephen Fung steampunk comedy Taichi 0 to lead the pack, with China’s divas Zhang Ziyi in Dangerous Liaisons and Fan Bingbing in Double Xposure giving Taichi 0 some serious competition, especially with their female audience appeal. Although Looper’s Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt don’t have major fanbases in China, that movie’s genre, action-SciFi, tends to over-perform in China, so don’t count it out.

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

It’s Action, Action, Action at the Chinese Box Office


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

September 18, 2012

The top 4 films at the Chinese box office two weeks ago–all Hollywood action films–held their positions again last week to combine for $34 million, or 85 percent, of the total $40 million weekly aggregate revenue at Chinese multiplexes. Action films have now led the Chinese box office for the past five consecutive weeks,

The Expendables 2 led the way with $15 million, extending its total in China to $40 million so far, compared to its final U.S. gross of $80 million. Expendables 2 will likely wind up earning over 20 percent of its total worldwide theatrical gross in China, which will make it one of the three highest indexing U.S. films in China’s history, after Titanic 3D, at 45 percent, and The Mechanic, at 22 percent.

Chinese films have again proven to be weak competitors against Hollywood imports. Since the SARFT blackout ended in late August, Hollywood imports have taken 95 cents out of every dollar spent on tickets by Chinese moviegoers.

Even the highly anticipated Chinese historical drama White Deer Plain failed to unseat the Hollywood leaders, taking in just $3.6 million in its first two days of release. That film, a controversial 3-hour adaptation of a novel by author Cheng Zhongshi, suffered from poor reviews and confusion over its release, which was delayed by Chinese authorities for “technical reasons.” It should see a bump next week as it expands into China’s second- and third-tier cities, but probably won’t be nearly the hit that its backers had hoped for.

In the week ahead the Daniel Radcliffe horror-thriller The Woman in Black will take aim at the chart-topping action blockbusters in its Chinese debut on September 20th. Radcliffe will need to bring along some of his Harry Potter magic if he hopes to dethrone Expendables 2 as the reigning box office champ .

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

Studio Grosses Continue Post-Blackout China Rebound


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

September 12, 2012

In China, 25 is the new 15.

Whereas 6 months ago a $15 million opening week in PRC theaters would have counted as a blockbuster success, that figure is now very old news. In September, $25 million is now the new gold standard.

Just 6 films have opened at $25 million or better in China so far this year, but half of these have come during the past two weeks, as 3 of the 4 latest Hollywood releases have hit or exceeded that mark during their first week of screenings. Expendables 2 joined the club this past week, and Prometheus came close, with just under $20 million in its first 7 days.

It’s no wonder that U.S. studio execs have become so combative about China’s efforts to protect its domestic films’ share of the PRC market. The studios are seeing the writing on the wall: China is their future.

The difference between U.S. and Chinese box office trends could hardly be more pronounced. Last week Chinese theaters had their second best week ever, while American theaters had their worst weekend in 11 years. China’s year-to-date box office total has now reached $1.8 billion and should easily exceed 30 percent growth again for all of 2012.

In an era of shrinking U.S. theatrical attendance and diminishing ancillary sales, the studios desperately need fresh, reliable sources of revenue. China has increasingly offered eye-popping box office bounties for action, fantasy, and sci-fi tent-poles.

The Expendables franchise represents a perfect example of this phenomenon. The prior film, 2010’s The Expendables, grossed $103 million in the U.S. and $31.8 million in China. That $31.8 million represented a solid 12 percent of the picture’s worldwide gross. Two years later, Expendables 2 grossed $38.8 million in its opening week in the U.S., and $25.2 million in China, and China will likely account for 20 percent of its final worldwide gross.

In the next year or so I expect we’ll start to see action and sci-fi tent-poles routinely grossing more in China than they do in the U.S.

With the summer blackout behind them, Hollywood films are once again dominating China’s box office. The four U.S. films in release took $60 million of last week’s $61 million aggregate nationwide gross, a 98 percent market share. The lone Chinese debut, Let it Be, managed to generate only $100,000 in revenue.

This week’s highly anticipated release of Chinese historical drama White Deer Plain has been delayed for unspecified reasons (possibly due to its nudity scenes), so the Hollywood blockbusters should enjoy two more weeks of relatively limited competition before the Golden Week holiday films—among them, Tai Chi 0, Dangerous Liaisons, and Double Xposure—start their runs in late September.

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