The 2019 “Hellboy” reboot is set to hit Chinese cinemas on Monday, Nov. 9, more than a year and a half after its U.S. debut.
The film ranked as one of the biggest box office flops of 2019, grossing just $22 million stateside and $44.7 million worldwide, despite a production budget of $50 million.
Although interest in the film currently appears low in China, even the most modest of China runs could nonetheless help pull the film out of the red. Only 24,000 Chinese consumers had clicked to indicate they “want to see” the film on the Maoyan data platform as of Thursday, compared to the 123,000 people who are eager to see the upcoming nationalistic local war film “The Sacrifice.”
Directed by Neil Marshall, the superhero film stars David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane and Daniel Dae Kim. It was distributed elsewhere by Lionsgate and produced by Millennium Films, Summit Entertainment, Campbell Grobman Films, Dark Horse Entertainment and Lawrence Gordon Productions. The title was sold to Chinese distributor JL Vision Film by Millennium Media back in February 2019.
The long wait for a release date highlights the slow and unpredictable pace at which China’s censorship and film authorities issue their approvals, and the way old titles that have long since been pirated and viewed by those most interested in them can still be trotted out when convenient to plug scheduling gaps in periods where local content is lacking.
The reboot’s loss of director Guillermo del Toro, who helmed the first two “Hellboy” films in 2004 and 2008, was mourned by critics, who gave it one of the worst Rotten Tomatoes aggregate averages of the year for a wide-release film at just 18%. Variety‘s chief film critic Owen Gleiberman called it “a pile of origin-story gobbledygook, frenetic and undercooked, full of limb-hacking, eye-gouging monster battles as well as an atmosphere of apocalyptic grunge that signifies next to nothing.”
In the U.S., its April 12, 2019 release date was also unfortunately caught between the debuts for “Shazam!” and “Avengers: Endgame,” meaning it faced unhelpful competition from two other major superhero films.
In China, “Hellboy” is currently set to face a relatively empty field. Its hottest competitor scheduled at the moment appears to be holdover titles like the aforementioned “Sacrifice” and Japan’s hotly anticipated animation “Digimon Adventure: The Last Evolution Kizuna,” set to release Oct. 30. In terms of new releases, the only potential contender is the small local crime thriller “Back to the Wharf,” releasing Nov. 6.
“Hellboy 2: The Golden Army” was released in China back in 2008, grossing $2.67 million at a time when the Chinese film market was much smaller. As of this month, it has now surpassed North America as the world’s largest amidst continued COVID-19 woes.