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China Box Office: Enduring ‘Sheep’ Leads Weekend, as Netflix’s ‘Extinction’ Makes Theatrical Debut

Universal Pictures’ sci-fi thriller “Extinction” starring Lizzy Caplan and Michael Pena was critically panned, yanked from its planned 2018 U.S. theatrical debut, and offloaded to Netflix. But it has found a new life on the big screen two years later in China, where it came in fifth at the box office over the weekend with a $1.4 million debut.

With its strict censorship and IT compliance rules, China is one of the few countries in the world where  the multinational streaming platform does not operate. But China is also becoming a new frontier for Netflix’s moves into the theatrical space. It is the territory where some Netflix titles accorded a release may stay in the most cinemas the longest.

Last May, Netflix’s “Roma” grossed $700,000 in a limited China release. “Marriage Story” is set to come out nationwide Feb. 28.

Extinction” will only have a short time in the Chinese spotlight, however. It is forecast by ticketing agency Maoyan to make just $800,000 more in the rest of its China run. And by Monday evening it had already fallen to eighth place at the box office.

Instead, local Chinese films have proven to have much more staying power. Chinese crime drama “Sheep Without a Shepherd” has proven China’s most resilient film of December and January, holding out ahead of even “Ip Man 4” to lead the box office this past weekend with a $7.9 million haul after more than a month in theaters.

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Directed by Malaysia’s Sam Quah and starring Joan Chen, the remake of the 2013 Indian film “Drishyam” has grossed a cumulative $168 million since its Dec. 13 debut, according to consultancy Artisan Gateway. This has squeaked it ahead of the Donnie Yen-starring martial arts “Ip Man 4,” which debuted Dec. 20 and has grossed $165 million so far. It made $7.2 over the weekend, coming in second.

“Sheep” has shown remarkable staying power: it has remained in the top three each weekend and only once slipped to third since its opening. Despite playing through one of the busiest release periods of the year, it has seen off challenges from homegrown patriotic fare including “Liberation,” and foreign films ranging from “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” to “The Farewell.”  Commentators have praised the lead performances, the tight pacing, and the script.

Chinese-made pet drama, “Adoring” came in third with $5.1 million, bringing its total gross up to $94.5 million. “Spies in Disguise,” the animated film from 20th Century Fox Animation subsidiary Blue Sky Studios, featuring the voices of Will Smith and Tom Holland, was fourth with $2.6 million. Its total China gross is now $12.9 million, making China the film’s top overseas territory so far, ahead of the U.K., where it made $6.9 million.

The American animated film about an animal spy outperformed iQIYI’s Chinese animated film about animal spies, “Spycies,” which made just $1.2 million this weekend.

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