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China Box Office: ‘Dragon’ Flies; ‘Green Book’ Authors $17 Million Debut

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” flew off with the weekend box office win in China, clipping the wings of “Alita: Battle Angel,” which had reigned for just one week. Oscar-winner “Green Book” also opened impressively, placing third.

“Dragon” earned $33 million, according to data from exhibition and distribution consultancy Artisan Gateway, having opened on some 10,000 screens. That was Universal’s third-biggest debut weekend for an animated film, and the third-largest a for DreamWorks Animation title in China, behind “Kung Fu Panda” Parts 2 and 3.

“Alita” dropped by 62% from its opening weekend to score $24 million. The performance was enough to lift it to a 10-day cumulative of $113 million.

The Imax China network grossed a combined total of $4.3 million, with about $2.4 million from “Alita” and $2 million for “Dragon 3.”

The weekend’s surprise was “Green Book,” which defied conventional wisdom that Chinese audiences don’t warm to films with black leading actors and scored $17.4 million. That is already higher than the lifetime score of previous best-film Oscar winner “The Shape of Water.”

“Green Book” is partially backed, and was certainly boosted by, Alibaba Pictures, which is an investor in the film’s producer, Amblin Pictures. Audience reactions were highly favorable. It earned record-equaling scores of 9.6 out of 10 on the Maoyan ticketing site, and saw its earnings jump from $3.8 million on Friday to $9.6 million on Saturday.

In fourth place, “The Wandering Earth” added $13.6 million in its fifth weekend of release to lift its cumulative to $678 million. Its ticket sales total passed 100 million, only the second film in the modern era of Chinese cinema to do so.

A long way off, “Pegasus” took fifth place with $2.4 million. Like “The Wandering Earth,” it was a Chinese New Year release that has played on. Its cumulative now stands at $254 million.

With the first two months of the year now completed, including the Lunar New Year holiday (whose dates shift within January and February from year to year), a meaningful look can be taken at year-on-year trends. Data from Artisan Gateway shows the year-to-date box office at $2.25 billion. That is about 5.7% below last year’s $2.39 billion figure.

That is likely to be a worry for Chinese film distributors and exhibitors, as the number of screens now in operation is several thousand higher than 2018. That implies that margins and per-screen average occupancy have returned to the weakening trend observed at the end of 2018.

Last year, policymakers responded to this weakness – and successfully engineered their target of nearly 10% growth – by allowing the number of imported films to significantly exceed the revenue-sharing quota norms. Additionally, Chinese studios appear unwilling to open their biggest films outside the four or five major holiday periods. That leaves the field open for more imports, longer runs for hit films, and for more surprises, such as “Green Book.”

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