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China Box Office: ‘My People’ and ‘The Captain’ Both Enjoy $100 Million Weekend Scores

The Captain
Courtesy of Distribution Workshop

Two Chinese films – both patriotic, but of very different genres – dominated the weekend box office in China. Both scored more than $100 million and extended their already stunning midweek tallies.

According to data from Artisan Gateway, Bona Film Group’s “The Captain” (aka “The Chinese Pilot”) earned $103 million, narrowly ahead of the state-backed omnibus film “My People, My Country,” which enjoyed a Friday-Sunday score of $102 million.

Both titles had been released on Monday, the day before the Oct. 1 National Day and had built up a head of steam, ahead of Shanghai Film Group’s “The Climbers,” a starry, nationalist tale about climbing Mt. Everest.

After six days on release, “People” had amassed $290 million, while “The Captain” had accumulated $253 million. Performing less well than anticipated, “The Climbers” ended the long holiday week with $108 million, including $31.3 million over the weekend.

“Abominable,” a Chinese-U.S. co-production between Pearl Studios and Universal, and boasting patriotic Chinese tones of its own, flopped badly. It earned just $4.78 million over the weekend and $11.4 million after five days, following a Tuesday outing.

The significance of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic and the orchestration of a triumphal pageant, meant there was little doubt that “People” would do well — despite its 254 minute running time. Some commentators have suggested that “People” could be the first Chinese title to exceed $1 billion gross box office.

What was harder to read was the degree of manipulation. And whether that manipulation came at the expense of other titles – especially in a market where corporations and state employers buy large blocks of tickets for their staff.

“People” enjoyed 135,000 screening sessions per day, and occupied prime time slots. Other films found it harder to get uninterrupted days of screenings, and after opening weakly “Abominable” had to make do almost entirely with split screenings.

Review and ticket sales websites gave high ratings to “People” – Mtime scored it 8.2 out of 10, Taopioapiao scored it 9.4 and Maoyan 9.7 – but in the past there has been doubt about the reliability of such scores. And in such a sensitive season, the temptation for site operators to paint a rosy picture would be great.

What there is less doubt about is that the great patriotic push created a bumper weekend and has lifted China’s overall box office. Artisan Gateway calculates a $244 million aggregate score for the weekend. And says that the year to date total is now 2% ahead of 2018, with $7.31 billion earned to Oct. 6. A week earlier, the running total had been lagging by 2%.

“A trio of Chinese local titles set the China National Holiday Imax box office record, earning a combined $16.4m over the 7-day holiday. Bona’s ‘The Captain’ is the top earner of the weekend in China, earning $3 million for the 3-day, and lifting its holiday week Imax cume to $6.2 million. Huaxia’s ‘My People My Country’ earns $2 million over the 3-day, but wins the holiday week with $8.5m after smashing the single day September and October Imax China box office records on Monday and Tuesday. The pre-holiday favorite, ‘The Climbers’ underperforms with $1.7m for the week,” an Imax spokesman reported.

Quite why “Abominable” failed to scale the peaks in China – especially when it has now hit $37 million in North America – will be worthy of post-mortem. Its fan appreciation was far from terrible: 7.8 out of 10 from Mtime users, 9.1 from Taopiaopiao and 9.4 from Maoyan.

“One (problem) is its Western style, storytelling, characters and design which is similar to Disney or Dreamworks,” said media investor and commentator Vincent Hsieh. “The other problem was the timing of its release when almost all people needed an exciting story for their motherland. Bad timing.” “These days you need to be redder than red,” another executive said.

But other fans were upbeat about “Abominable.” “The one thing that really moved me is that this movie is not superficially Chinese, but from scenes to structures, from stories to the core message it tries to send out, this movie is authentically Chinese. All those beautiful Chinese landscapes, regular people’s busy city life, and the touching Chinese family values this film presents, has the power to attract, surprise, and impress audiences around the globe,” wrote much-followed online critic Tease Cinema.

But if “The Climbers” and “Abominable” came out weak, “Ugly Dolls” did even worse. The STX animation “Ugly Dolls” should have benefited from co-investment from Alibaba (owner of Taopiaopiao). Instead, it opened with takings of just $60,000 on Friday, according to another data service. It appears to have been take off screen shortly thereafter.