“Dune” didn’t quite manage to spice up its China open after a middling $6 million first day in the country on Friday. The film grossed just $21.6 million in its debut three-day weekend, according to studio estimates.
The result is more or less in the ballpark of its $41 million weekend tally in North America, where it released day-and-date simultaneously on HBO Max. It is nevertheless a disappointing one considering the enormity of the world’s largest film market, which has delivered much more spectacular openings in recent weeks.
As a dense, cerebral sci-fi epic, however, “Dune” is a hard sell for viewers in China’s lower-tier cities, who have recently proven their spending power by coming out in droves for National Day propaganda movies earlier this month.
The film is currently projected to earn just $35.2 million in China according to estimates from the Maoyan database, which would mean it has already grossed more than 60% of its total in just three days.
The initial haul for “Dune” has not even been enough to help it surpass local Korean War film “The Battle of Lake Changjin,” even though it’s now been in theaters for nearly a full month. It came in first this week with sales of $32.1 million.
Co-directed by Chen Kaige, Dante Lam and Tsui Hark, the title has become China’s third highest grossing film of all time with sales of $829 million so far. It is currently projected by Maoyan to end up the second highest earner in history behind “Wolf Warrior 2” thanks to a $861 million cume.
“Dune” is distributed in China by Wanda subsidiary Legendary East, while Warner Bros. handles all other territories. It grossed $9.1 million on Saturday, and is playing across more than 35,000 screens. The film made $5.1 million this weekend via Imax screens, or 23% of the total China weekend gross from just 1% of screens — pushing the Imax China network to its biggest October on record with a week still remaining in the month.
It did not fall behind “Lake Changjin” due to skewed opportunities because of exhibitors’ programming decisions. While theaters allocated an average of 32% of all screenings this weekend to “Lake Changjin,” “Dune” was accorded a similar 31% of them.
The nationwide box office this weekend in China came to low total of just $69 million, depressed by new COVID-19 outbreaks that have shut down cinemas in at least eight provinces and regions either particularly or entirely since Friday, including Xinjiang, Shanxi, Gansu, Ningxia, Qinghai, Guizhou, Hebei and Inner Mongolia.
Other than Hebei, however, the provinces are some of China’s more impoverished, home to more ethnic minority populations, and frequented by tourists, and are not typically the country’s main movie-going regions.
More than 100 locally transmitted cases have occurred across 11 provinces and regions, most of them originating from tour groups, according to Reuters, and possibly exacerbated by the increasingly cold weather. China has a strong track record of containing outbreaks but has taken a proactive approach to stamping out new ones, particularly with the approach of the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Only three other films in China cracked the $1 million box office mark this weekend. Holdover propaganda film “My Country, My Parents” grossed a further $5.2 million to bring its full tally up to $221 million so far since its Sept. 30 debut, coming in third.
Two new releases ranked fourth and fifth. Local comedy “Knock Knock” from director Xiang Liu starring Shawn Dou (“Under the Hawthorn Tree”) and Wei Fan grossed $4.12 million. Just behind was Ann Hui’s romantic drama “Love After Love,” which earned $3.32 million. Starring Ma Sichun, Eddie Peng, Faye Yu and Wei Fan as well, the Hong Kong-set adaptation of the Eileen Chang short story premiered at the Venice International Film Festival in 2020.