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China Box Office: ‘Snake’ Steals Win as Pre-Holiday Slowdown Deepens

Bumblebee
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Chinese animation “White Snake” slithered to a weekend win, as theatrical box office in China, ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays, slipped to the lowest total of the past two years. “Snake” scored with just $9 million.

The film has now accumulated $64.5 million since its Jan. 11 release, according to data from entertainment consultancy Artisan Gateway. That makes “Snake” the biggest film to date from producer Lightchaser Animation Studios, and one of the top-performing Chinese-made animation films.

In the absence of competition from new releases, “Once Upon a Deadpool” and “Bumblebee” kept going. The expurgated version of “Deadpool 2” earned $7.3 million for a cumulative of $41.8 million, while “Transformers” spinoff “Bumblebee” earned $5.2 million, to advance its total to $170 million and confirm its status as the biggest film released in 2019 in China. “Escape Room” added $5.2 million for a $33.9 million total. Chinese-made “The Big Shot” added $2.7 million to its total, lifting its cumulative to $56.3 million.

Nationwide, Chinese theaters earned only $32.7 million between Friday and Sunday, the quietest weekend since September 2016. Artisan Gateway points to a year-to-date total of $535 million, down 32% from the $790 million accumulated at this point last year.

Even though businesses have been on slowdown since Friday, distributors avoided putting out new releases this weekend. They preferred instead to wait for the official first day of the holidays Tuesday.

Whether that strategy was a wise one will become clear over the next week. From Tuesday, more than a dozen new films will compete for screens and viewers, ranging in genre from comedies to animation to Jackie Chan in costume targeting family audiences.

Word-of-mouth promotion, driven by social media, is hugely important in China. Last year it took viewers just two days to switch from the early favorite (“Monster Hunt 2”) to Dante Lam’s well-made patriotic actioner, “Operation Red Sea.” But the scores that can be obtained in those few days may dwarf the past weekend’s total.