Roland Emmerich’s big-budget World War II film “Midway” was no match for local drama “Better Days” at China’s box office, bringing in $3 million less than the top-earning Chinese title, which is already in its third weekend in theaters. One of the more expensive independent films ever made on a budget of $98 million, the American blockbuster took in a meager $15.7 million during its opening weekend in China, signaling that it will likely struggle to be profitable.
Instead, “Better Days,” Hong Kong director Derek Kwok-Cheung Tsang’s melodramatic saga about schoolyard bullying starring Zhou Dongyu and TFBoys heartthrob Jackson Yee, led the box office with $18.6 million, according to consultancy Artisan Gateway. That tally even exceeded the $17.5 million that “Midway” made in the U.S., where it led a lackluster domestic box office by beating out “Doctor Sleep.”
“Midway” was made possible by Chinese financing, with Hong Kong-listed Starlight Entertainment putting up 45% of the total budget on the strength of Emmerich’s track record of blockbusters such as “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Independence Day” and “The Patriot.” The China connection may have helped the movie get the official approvals for a Chinese theatrical release, despite being a tale of American military prowess and triumph at a time when the U.S. and China are at loggerheads over trade.
Bona Film Group is the China distributor for the film, which made it past censors even at a time when two other Chinese war films remain in limbo: Huayi Brothers’ “The Eight Hundred” and director Li Shaohong’s “Liberation.” Chinese films and TV shows commonly depict stories of battles against Japanese forces.
But just getting a film into Chinese theaters isn’t enough if Chinese viewers don’t want to see it. Perfect Village CEO and producer Ellen Eliasoph (“Shadow”) said that “Midway’s” underwhelming performance had “nothing to do with policy – it’s just about people’s feelings.”
“There’s certain kinds of movies that people want to see at certain times,” she said. “Maybe it’s just not with the current zeitgeist.”
The film has a strong 9.1 rating out of 10 from viewer reviews on the Maoyan platform, where commenters are praising the “grandeur” of its scenes and special effects, but just 7.7 out of 10 on the more discerning Douban platform. Maoyan forecasts total mainland earnings of only $42.6 million (RMB298 million). “Hacksaw Ridge,” by contrast, grossed $62 million in 2016, at a time when China had thousands fewer screens.
“Terminator: Dark Fate” also didn’t fare well in its second weekend in China’s theaters, coming in fifth with just $6.7 million. It has now earned a total of $45 million in the territory.
Ahead of it were “My Dear Liar” in third, with a $15 million debut weekend, and Japanese animated feature “Weathering With You,” which brought in $7.5 million, bringing its cumulative take up to $35.6 million. Directed by Makoto Shinkai, whose “Your Name” grossed $82 million (RMB576 million) in China in 2016, “Weathering With You” was selected as Japan’s submission for the international feature film Oscar, making it the first animated feature put forth by the country for the section in 20 years.