“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” conquered China over the Jan. 9-10 weekend, racking up $53 million, and setting a record as the territory’s best weekend bow. In six days through Jan. 14, it had collected $75.6 million, but has since slowed rapidly and was actually bested by a Chinese animation in its second weekend. Still, passing $100 million in China is now a certainty. But while China joins the list of the sequel’s bigger markets, some other territories have eluded the franchise, especially in parts of Asia where local cinema dominates.
In India, the world’s No. 6 market (with a 2014 box office gross of some $1.7 billion), “The Force Awakens” has achieved some $3.15 million after three weeks — a total dented by local blockbusters “Dilwale” and “Bajirao Mastani” (which made $4.8 million and $6.3 million, respectively, during that time).
“The biggest problem was the bad release date,” says Anupama Chopra, a film critic and executive director of the Mumbai Film Festival. “You cannot go up against two of the biggest Bollywood films of the year.” The two star-laden local films debuted head to head on Dec. 17, leaving “The Force Awakens” to bow a week later, on Christmas Day.
Hollywood films take in less than 10% of the Indian box office, but even that’s an improvement from five years ago, when the studios grossed less than 5% of the nationwide B.O.
While Indians flocked to “Jurassic World” and “Furious 7,” which both crossed the $20 million mark, that success is hard to replicate. India has its own mythologies, and not every Hollywood story resonates.
|B.O. for films that have so far bested “The Force Awakens” on home turf|
|$45.9m||“The Himalayas” (South Korea)|
|$6.3m||“Bajirao Mastani” (India)|
Another factor working against the “Star Wars” sequel is the nation’s digital incompatibility. Like most studios, Disney will release only in DCI-compliant multiplex cinemas in India, which gives the local pics a greater reach into most regions, and on the county’s predominant single-screen cinemas.
“What we’ve done is to build a base for each of the ‘Star Wars’ movies that will release over the next five years,” says one Disney executive. “ ‘Rogue One’ will do better than ‘The Force Awakens.’ ”
In Japan, the world’s third largest territory for box office (worth $2 billion in 2014), it took “The Force Awakens” three weeks to achieve an unchallenged No. 1 position. In its first two frames, the “Star Wars” sequel was outsold by “Yo-Kai Watch the Movie 2: King Enma and the 5 Stories, Nyan!,” a local video-game adaptation that moved more tickets — and, therefore, came out on top on the Japanese charts.
By its third week in release in Japan (Jan. 2-3), “The Force Awakens” had taken in $54 million from 4.1 million admissions. The performance of Hollywood movies in Japan has waned in recent years — eroded in part by the resurgence of Japanese blockbusters — to the point where, in general, $10 million-$15 million is a decent performance. A factor helping “The Force Awakens”: Unlike most Hollywood films, which often appear weeks or months after their U.S. bow, the sequel had a day-and-date release in Japan on a record 958 screens.
In this $1.6 billion market, “Star Wars” does come with a legacy — but not a good one.
When the first “Star Wars” film was released in South Korea, the nation was still under a quota system. “Only 10 prints were allowed for foreign releases, and sci-fi movies were not doing well in Korea,” says Jonathan Kim of production house Hanmac. “The import price set a record, at $425,000, then the maximum amount allowed by law. The film lost money.”
“The Empire Strikes Back” was not screened in theaters (it ran on TV in 1988), and “Return of the Jedi” was released in 1987, four years after the U.S. run date. That dismal succession has allowed a key fan base to be lost by the franchise.
Instead of turning to the Force, South Koreans have been flocking to locally-produced adventure drama “The Himalayas,” and drama “Inside Men.”
“The Force Awakens,” with a current cume of $23.4 million, was released head-to-head against “The Himalayas,” which has amassed $45.9 million. These numbers show how far the “Star Wars” sequel has to climb to achieve the nation’s box office summit.