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‘Batman v Superman’ Looks for Heroic China Opening

“Batman v Superman” snared a rare day-and-date release in China, opening on Friday, the same day as in the U.S. The Warner Bros. superhero saga is expected to perform strongly in China, with a final gross of $150 million to $230 million. Yet local tastes mean it’s not likely to reach the same level as recent blockbusters such as “Fast and Furious 7.”

The streets of Beijing are not exactly full of posters for “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” But talent appearances can go a long way to building buzz in China.

Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill and director Zack Snyder held a noisy fan event in Beijing as part of their global promotion tour. With them was Chinese singer-male model-actor Li Yifeng, who has nearly 30 million social-media followers, and who was appointed fan ambassador for the movie.

While these days, locally made films account for the majority of box office takings in China, Chinese audiences still love those Hollywood movies that are drawn on a grand scale – they give a sense of getting good value for money. So delivering two superheroes and copious visual effects should be a winning formula for “Batman v Superman,” and expectations for the film are understandably high. (Shooting the film partially on Imax cameras and releasing on a wide number of Imax screens should help secure the fanboy audiences.)

The last Batman movie to play China faced off against a different superhero: “The Dark Knight Rises” earned $52.8 million in China in October 2012 despite playing against “Spider-Man.” The last Superman movie, “Man of Steel,” grossed $63.4 million in July 2013, with a nearly $26 million four-day opening weekend.

But the number of cinema screens and the scale of releases in China has more than doubled since 2012. And, as the first large-scale Hollywood superhero movie to release in China for more than six months, realistic expectations for “Batman v Superman” now might be for a final gross between $150 million and $180 million. More optimistic predictions range from $200 million to $230 million.

That would be better than “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which took in $125 million earlier this year. Top estimates are comparable to last year’s “Jurassic World” ($229 million). With DC Comics’ somewhat darker tone, few people are predicting final numbers for “Batman v Superman” to reach those of last year’s “Fast & Furious 7,” which surprised most observers by driving off with $380 million. And nobody expects “Batman v Superman” to get anywhere near this year’s local sensation “The Mermaid,” which currently stands on $525 million.

Warner Bros. lobbied for and secured for the film a relatively rare day-and-date slot. That allows the global marketing campaign to function simultaneously in China. That is not always the case, as releases of Hollywood films in China are often pushed out of synch by regulatory issues, blackout periods or, more simply, different holidays.

Hollywood studios are prevented from opening their own distribution companies in China, and the releases of all revenue sharing quota import films remain under the duopoly control of China Film Group and Huaxia Distribution. While that continues to be a complication, these days all of the studios operate marketing activities in parallel with the CFG efforts.

Warner Consumer Products is understood to have tied up with dairy products giant Mengniu, which has put the film’s imagery on some 350 million yogurts. Leading furniture group Macalline has gone for a co-branding campaign. Other tie-ups include Doritos, Dell and the massively popular KFC fast-food chain. One shopping mall in the southern city of Guangzhou (formerly Canton) has built a shrine to the movie, complete with full-scale replicas of the Batmobile, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.

Competition and the watchful eye of the industry regulators represent two possible clouds on the horizon.

“Batman v Superman” will have to compete for screens and eyeballs with two other Hollywood films. “Zootopia” was a slightly delayed release in China and (as of Sunday, March 20) was top of the charts having accumulated $173 million after 17 days on release. “The Revenant,” another dark movie, but fronted by Leonardo DiCaprio, fresh from his Oscar win, opened last weekend with a powerful $31.7 million in three days.

Springtime last year – with “Furious 7,” then “The Avengers” and “Jurassic World” – was when Hollywood appeared to run off with the Chinese box office. That prompted regulators to enforce an unusually long summer blackout period and in the autumn to pile up several Hollywood releases against each other.

So Warner and the other studios will likely be hoping that “Batman v Superman” does well in China, just not too well.

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