While the U.S. industry celebrated “Godzilla vs. Kong” as the biggest and widest opening of the pandemic, the monster film has already been defeated in its second weekend in the world’s largest film market by the low-budget local drama “Sister.”
In its Tomb Sweeping Festival holiday debut, the reportedly $4.6 million-budgeted latter film directed by unknown helmer Yin Ruoxin muscled past the $160 million-budgeted Legendary and Warner Bros. juggernaut by more than $9 million.
“Godzilla vs. Kong” grossed $43.5 million in China this weekend, according to data from Maoyan, bringing its cume up to $137 million, having opened five days earlier in China than the U.S. Imax screens have accounted for $18 million of its cume so far — nearly double the final Imax China box office gross for “Kong: Skull Island” and “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” but not yet more than the 2014 “Godzilla” reboot.
The “Godzilla vs. Kong” weekend China earnings put it just a hair below its $48.5 million North America opening haul. That tally was hailed as a milestone weekend in the States for blasting past the domestic openings of December’s “Wonder Woman 1984,” which had previously held the record for best pandemic debut with $16.7 million, and February’s “Tom & Jerry,” whose $13.7 million had made it the biggest debut of 2021.
In contrast, “Godzilla vs. Kong” grossed $70 million in its China debut last weekend, marking the biggest premiere for a foreign title there in both 2020 and 2021.
Nevertheless, the special effects extravaganza was no match this week for “Sister,” a much quieter, intimate story of a young girl forced to take care of her little brother on her own after their parents die in a car crash. It led the box office with a $52.8 million opening weekend.
The MonsterVerse franchise film’s defeat is the latest indication that well-told, impassioned “realist” stories seeking to depict real-life dilemmas can have a greater runaway appeal to Chinese audiences than flashy, big-budget spectacles with less of an emotional core. Earlier this year, the more modest tear-jerker “Hi, Mom” upset the big-budget comedy “Detective Chinatown 3” in a similarly unexpected fashion.
Maoyan currently predicts, however, that “Godzilla” will have more staying power, estimating that the Hollywood title will go on to earn a total of $193 million in China, and “Sister” a lesser $136 million.
“Sister” stars Zhang Zifeng of the “Detective Chinatown” franchise and upcoming thriller “Home Sweet Home,” in which she will feature alongside Hong Kong’s Aaron Kwok. It lists 15 different Chinese firms as producers, headed by Shanghai-based Lian Ray Pictures, Tianjin-based TR Movie and HG Entertainment.
Director Yin pairs up with Zhang again in the upcoming youth romance “Farewell, My Lad,” which will actually be competing with “Sister” due to an April 16 theatrical release. The success of the latter will likely give the “Farewell” a boost. Yin has only directed these two titles.
While “Godzilla” and “Sister” duked it out at the top, no other film made it past the $10 million mark this weekend.
The animation “Monkey King Reborn” from Filmko Films opened to a $7.29 million, coming in third. Comedic drama “The Eleventh Chapter,” directed by and starring Chen Jianbin (who played the lead in “A Cool Fish”), was fourth with a $5.17 million debut.
“Tomorrow Will Be Fine,” a new local rom-com starring popular Chinese comedian Jiang Yilei, known for her viral sketches posted to social media via her online persona Papi Jiang, hit fifth with sales of $3.52 million.
The re-release of James Cameron’s “Avatar” held on in sixth with earnings of a further $1.52 million, bringing its total 2021 China box office up to $54.3 million.
Watch the trailer for “Sister” below.