Local content is proving more of a draw than Hollywood films as China’s cinemas get back on their feet. Chinese drama “Enigma of Arrival” quashed “Dolittle” and “Jojo Rabbit” to take the top spot in theaters’ second weekend back in business, while a local animation bested the whimpering China debut of Paramount’s “Sonic the Hedgehog.”
The $87 million-budgeted “Sonic” broke records in its February premiere stateside, attaining the highest opening figures for a video game movie adaptation to date with an estimated $57 million three-day debut. In China, it opened with just $1.27 million, according to leading Chinese data tracker Ent Group. Debuting months after its U.S. release, the film is understood to have already been widely pirated by those keen to see it.
Around 7,099 cinemas — roughly 65% of China’s national total — were back in action across the country as of Saturday, an increase of 379 from the day before, according to Chinese reports. As of August 1, cinemas in 329 Chinese cities have resumed operations, with 93% of venues in each city back up and running, the reports said.
But multiplexes did not perform much better in this second weekend than their lukewarm first, grossing just $17.6 million nationwide, according to industry data tracker Maoyan — a mere $5 million more than last week’s tally despite the addition of more than 2,000 re-opened theaters. By comparison, the box office for the first weekend in August of 2019 was $204 million at today’s exchange rates.
The depressed performance is due in large part to restrictions on operations currently in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. At the moment, venues can only sell 30% of their maximum capacity of seats for each show to allow for social distancing, and they must schedule half the number of screenings they normally would play in order to accommodate new disinfection measures.
In certain regions, some have been ordered to schedule an intermission for titles that exceed two hours in length.
A closer look at the performance of individual cinemas highlights the need for continued box office growth to keep already struggling venues out of the red, particularly since the sale of concessions, a main revenue driver, is currently banned for the foreseeable future.
A seven-theater, 1401-seat UME International Cineplex in Beijing was the most successful cinema in the country Sunday, Maoyan data shows. Over the three-day weekend period, it sold an average of 1,121 tickets a day and made daily average of $8,600. These figures were up from its first days back in business last weekend, when it sold an average of just 561 tickets a day for $3,775, but down immensely from its performance in the first August weekend of last year, when it made an average of $30,800 a day from around 2,570 tickets.
Meanwhile, the picture is even bleaker for lesser performing cinemas, such as a nine-theater, 1309-seat Wanda cineplex in the coastal city of Qingdao that ranked nearly 700th on Sunday — still far from the worst performer among the more than 7,000 that have resumed operations.
This weekend, it earned an average of $1,600 a day from the sale of an average of 457 tickets, up ever so slightly from an average of $1,280 a day from 362 tickets last week, but a far cry from its performance last year, when it grossed an average of $19,700 a day from 3,670 tickets over the first weekend in August.
Analysts have nonetheless called China’s box office performance to date “better than anticipated.”
“Enigma of Arrival” grossed $3.34 million this weekend in its debut, according to Ent Group. After first screening in Busan in 2018, it was originally scheduled to open in February over Valentine’s Day, but had its release pushed back due to COVID-19. The dark, crime-tinged coming-of-age romantic drama is the first feature from director Song Wen, co-founder of the currently ongoing FIRST Intl. Film Festival in Xining. It stars Li Xian, best known for his role in last year’s esports-themed TV series “Go Go Squid!” and Gu Xuan (“Flowers of War”).
On its tail was the Robert Downey Jr.-starring “Dolittle,” which Ent Group showed grossed $3.06 million in its second weekend in theaters, around $400,000 of which came from 442 Imax screens.
In third was a re-release of Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar.” It grossed $2.84 million despite only opening on Sunday, of which $660,000 came from 461 Imax screens. Imax sold $130,000-worth of midnight preview tickets on Saturday, accounting for 72% of the country’s preview totals. Nolan’s “Tenet” has been approved for release in China and will likely hit at the end of August, ahead of its U.S. debut.
A re-release of Chinese crime thriller “Shepherd Without a Shepherd” came in fourth with a $2.2 million weekend, once again bolstering its credentials as the sleeper hit of the coronavirus era. It has now grossed a total of $181 million now since it first came out in late December, after more than 43 days in theaters across multiple months.
Dark local animation “Mr. Miao” came in fifth with a $1.42 million debut, beating out the small $1.27 million “Sonic” opener. A follow-up to the violent, inventive 2017 animation “Dahufa,” the film was initially set to debut late last year but had its date pushed back due to apparent censorship issues. Though China has no rating system, the title has, like its predecessor, self-rated PG-13. It is produced by Enlight Media subsidiary Coloroom Pictures, which was also behind “Ne Zha,” China’s top-earning animation of all time.
“Bloodshot” came in seventh with $900,000 in ticket sales in its second weekend, while best adapted screenplay Oscar winner “Jojo Rabbit” earned $790,000 in its limited release debut via the country’s National Arthouse Alliance of Cinemas. “Coco” followed, having grossed $270,000.