Unusually, all of the top five films at the China box office this weekend were non-Chinese. That’s a relatively rare occurrence, as audiences typically favor local films over foreign content. But it is one that may happen more often, as high-performing local titles become fewer and farther between due to production slowdowns.
The lack of strong local titles is also having a negative impact on the overall box office. Data from Artisan Gateway shows China’s year to date cumulative grosses down 4%, at $3.79 billion.
Legendary Pictures’ title “Detective Pikachu” led the pack in its second weekend in Chinese theaters, bringing in $17.8 million for a total of $69.3 million in the Middle Kingdom, making it the most successful territory for the film so far outside of North America. In ten days the furry yellow critter has already helped the film pull in more than Warner Brothers’ superhero flick “Shazam!”, which made only $43.7 million in China last month.
In second place was Amblin Entertainment’s “A Dog’s Journey,” which took $11.1 million in its China opening weekend — beating its $8 million U.S. debut. The film has received just 48% on Rotten Tomatoes, but Chinese audiences have been much more forgiving, giving it a 9.3 and 8.9 out of 10 on top user review platforms Maoyan and Tao Piaopiao, respectively. The film was directed by Gail Mancuso and is a sequel to 2017’s “A Dog’s Purpose,” which took in more than $88 million in China.
There are China connections for both titles: Legendary is owned by China’s Dalian Wanda. Amblin counts China’s Alibaba as a key investor.
“Avengers: Endgame” held strong at third, despite nearly 30 days in theaters. It took in $7.9 million, bringing its total gross to a whopping $610 million in China — nearly double “Avengers: Infinity War”’s $360 million.
In fourth was Lebanese director Nadine Labaki’s “Capernaum,” which debuted at Cannes in the main competition last year. Having brought in another $3.6 million over the weekend, it has now grossed an incredible $48.6 million in China, making it thirty times more successful in the territory than in any other. On the Croisette earlier this week, Labaki expressed her surprise and delight at its success, saying “it’s something totally new, it’s a big surprise for me.”
Indian 2017 crime thriller “Mom” — superstar Sridevi’s last major film appearance, given her untimely death last February — ranked fifth, bringing in $2.5 million in its second weekend in theaters. It stars the actress as a furious mother seeking revenge after her stepdaughter is sexually assaulted at a party. A spokesman from India’s Zee Studios had previously told Variety that it hoped Chinese audiences would “be able to relate to this powerful story of a strong female character’s journey.” Online ticketing platforms predict it will make just over $14 million (RMB100 million) in China over the course of its run.
The pipeline of local Chinese content has dried up due to a production slowdown brought about by new regulatory changes and a government crackdown on industry taxes. Insiders do not expect a return to normal until Q4 or Q1 2020.