China’s theaters have been closed for longer than any other country’s, having stayed dark — despite a brief attempt to reopen in March — since the lunar new year holiday in late January.
As of early Saturday morning in China, 22 films are set to hit theaters on Monday, the first day of reopenings, including U.S. films “Pursuit of Happyness,” “Coco,” and “A Dog’s Purpose.”
The others are all Chinese re-run titles, except for one new one: “A First Farewell,” a well-received arthouse title set in China’s Xinjiang region that screened as part of last year’s Generation Kplus selection at Berlin.
The opening day offerings include: blockbusters “Wolf Warrior 2,” “Monster Hunt,” “Wolf Totem,” “American Dreams in China,” and Jackie Chan’s “CZ12”; comedies “The Mermaid” and “Goodbye Mr. Loser”; thrillers “Sheep Without A Shepherd” and Huayi Brothers’ 2009 “The Message”; rom-coms “How Long Will I Love You” and “Beijing Love Story”; propaganda film “The Moment of the Sunrise”; and animations “Big Fish and Begonia,” “White Snake,” “Nezha,” “The Adventure of Afanti,” and the classic 1960s version of the “Journey to the West” tale, “The Monkey King (Uproar in Heaven),” a nostalgic audience favorite.
“Happyness,” the 2006 biographical drama starring Will Smith, appears to have had a short run in China back in 2008, grossing just $848,000. Chinese audiences typically gravitate towards emotional but ultimately feel-good titles, so distributors are likely hoping it will tap into viewers who recently enjoyed Oscar-winning “Green Book” enough to shoot it to a gross $71 million in China last year — just a few million shy of its $85 million U.S. run.
“Coco” did extremely well in China, despite featuring ghosts, which the country’s censorship regime technically bans. It grossed $189 million in 2017.
Meanwhile, four foreign films are set to debut July 24, kicking off cinemas’ first opening weekend back in business. They are: “Dolittle,” “Bloodshot,” “Capernaum,” and “A Dog’s Journey,” the Dennis Quaid-starring sequel to “A Dog’s Purpose.”
Universal’s “Dolittle” was supposed to screen Feb. 21 in China, but was indefinitely pushed back due to COVID-19 as cinemas shut. Its star Robert Downey Jr. is beloved to Chinese fans for playing Tony Stark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Superhero film “Bloodshot” was released March 13 stateside. Its China release could give it a shot at profitability, given that headliner Vin Diesel has a large fan base there thanks to his “Fast & Furious” franchise appearances. Made on a reported $45 million budget, the title grossed just $29 million globally, $10 million of which was earned in the U.S.
“Capernaum” already became a surprise theatrical hit last year in China, grossing $54 million last April, a sum greater than its haul anywhere else in the world.
Variety has seen a leaked list of titles that state-run distributor China Film Group has sent out to cinemas but was unable to verify its origins. It said that in addition to the films listed above that have already confirmed, the first two “Avengers” series films (2012’s “The Avengers” and 2015’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron”), James Cameron’s classic “Titanic,” and local sci-fi mega-hit “The Wandering Earth” will be re-released but have yet to set dates.
The document indicated that nearly all the Chinese re-releases would screen via a “charity” model in which distributors and producers will forgo their cut of box office returns in favor of handing it over to help struggling exhibitors. “Capernaum,” whose China rights are held by Road Pictures, will also be released under this model, but not the other foreign films .
Meanwhile, the well-anticipated local animated film “Mr. Miao” has confirmed it will release on July 31.