As expected, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” crossed the $100 million mark today at the Chinese box office, a testament to Disney’s aggressive marketing of the film in a country largely unfamiliar with the 39-year-old franchise.
Still, the sequel, which opened Jan. 9 in mainland China to a record $53 million, fell dramatically in its second weekend of release, earning just $14.82 million and losing to “Boonie Bears 3,” a low-budget adaptation of a local animated television series. According to The Hollywood Reporter, “The Force Awakens” received “less-than-stellar word of mouth” in its first days of release, which led Chinese cinemas to drastically reduce the number of screenings.
As the website points out, most Hollywood studios would be thrilled with a $100 million-plus gross in China, a milestone reached by only eight Western releases last year. However, considering the record-breaking performance of “The Force Awakens” around the globe, some observers expected more.
Now the world’s second-largest film market, China was only beginning to emerge from its Cultural Revolution in 1977, when the first “Star Wars” premiered. A ban on Western films continued until 1994, which meant none of the original trilogy received wide release there. When the prequels came along beginning in 1999, China’s now-booming network of cinemas was still in its infancy (despite that, the three films met with moderate success; 2005’s “Revenge of the Sith” grossed $11.7 million, considered an impressive feat at the time).
“Part of the box office success is the accumulated cultural memories. Parents see it and they bring their kids,” Michael Berry, a professor of contemporary Chinese cultural studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, explained to Wired. “In China, it had a very, very different history.”
With even more competition arriving in the form of “Kung Fu Panda 3,” “The Force Awakens” is expected to end its run in China somewhere between the $111 million of “Terminator Genysis” and the $135 million of “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation.”