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China Box Office: ‘Toy Story 4’ Beaten by Country’s First Screenings of Miyazaki’s ‘Spirited Away’

Disney and Pixar’s “Toy Story 4” has debuted to record-breaking opening weekends all over the world – but not in China, where it was soundly beaten by a nearly 20-year-old Japanese anime classic, Ghibli Studios’ “Spirited Away.”

While “Toy Story 4” made film history in territories around the world with the largest-ever three-day opening for an animated feature — including in the U.S. (with $118 million in ticket sales), the U.K., Mexico and Argentina — it came in second in China, where it grossed just $13.2 million, according to data from Artisan Gateway.

Its runner-up finish came despite stellar ratings on key user-review platforms Maoyan and Taopiaopiao, which both gave the film a 9.2 out of 10, respectively. “Toy Story 4’s” performance was hurt by Chinese exhibitors’ decision to program far more screenings of “Spirited Away,” the classic animated film by Hayao Miyazaki, which was first released in the U.S. in 2002 but is having its first theatrical outing in China. “Spirited Away” raked in $28 million, more than double “Toy Story 4’s” haul.

Box office figures in China are highly dependent on local exhibitors’ choices. In April, “Avengers: Endgame” crushed the Chinese box office with $614 million in part because cinemas chose to screen almost literally nothing else during a vast chunk of its run. The Marvel film accounted for as many as 99% of the screenings nationwide at the peak of the phenomenon.

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But that was before tensions from the U.S.-China trade war escalated. Showings of “Spirited Away” accounted for about 30% of all screenings nationwide over the weekend, while showings of “Toy Story 4” accounted for about 18%.

“Spirited Away” is the second retro Ghibli offering in recent months to hit China, which never got to see them on the big screen the first time around. A digitally remastered version of “My Neighbor Totoro” made $25 million last December. Both Japanese films have had beautiful China-specific posters made by Chinese designer Huang Hai.

Spirited Away China poster

Sony’s “Men in Black: International” dropped to third over the weekend, bringing in $5.9 million for a 10-day total of $40.4 million. Co-produced by Tencent Pictures, it is just the second film in the series to hit China, following 2012’s “Men in Black 3,” which grossed $77.2 million on the mainland.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters” came in fourth with $3.5 million for a total China haul of $131 million, surpassing the movie’s U.S. earnings of $102 million and making China its most successful territory. On Friday, it was granted a month-long extended release by Chinese authorities, who typically permit films only one month in theaters. Legendary Pictures, the production company behind the Monsterverse films, is a subsidiary of China’s Wanda Group.

In fifth was Chinese romantic comedy “My Best Summer,” produced by China Film Group and starring Chen Feiyu, the son of big-name fifth-generation director Chen Kaige (“Farewell My Concubine”).  

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