China Box Office Hits Huge $775 Million Holiday Weekend, Led by $424 Million ‘Detective Chinatown’ Debut

Detective Chinatown 3
Courtesy of WanDa Pictures

China made history this weekend with record ticket sales of nearly $775 million (RMB5.0 billion) within the first three days of the Chinese New Year holiday, led by an incredible $424 million (RMB2.74 billion) debut from “Detective Chinatown 3.”

This marked the first time the country’s national box office has ever broken RMB1 billion ($155 million) a day for three consecutive days, a feat achieved despite caps on max theater capacity at 75% in most of the country and 50% in areas particularly at risk for COVID-19, such as the Beijing-adjacent Hebei province.

More than 55 million individual tickets were purchased at an average price of $7.74 (RMB50) for director Chen Sicheng’s long-awaited third installment to the “Detective Chinatown” franchise — with ticket prices much higher than the average $5.40 (RMB35) seen at other times of year reflecting the high demand. It accounted for an average of 42% of all screenings in the country over the weekend.

To put the figures in a bit of perspective, in three days, “Detective Chinatown 3” made over $100 million more than did Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” worldwide, and nearly triple the global sales of “Wonder Woman 1984.”

In second place was unexpected time travel-themed hit “Hi, Mom,” which grossed $195 million (RMB1.26 billion), according to real-time data from the Alibaba-backed Lighthouse industry data aggregator.

The film, which was written and directed by its lead actress Jia Ling, is expected to be the breakout dark horse title of the Lunar New Year release window thanks to very strong word of mouth. Nearly 80% of users across the three different major local ratings apps have given it four stars or above, Chinese media reports note. “Thanks to such a strong reception, the film’s box office potential is sure to be further unveiled,” wrote one outlet, Ynet.

In third was the adventure film “A Writer’s Odyssey,” with sales of $53.4 million (RMB345 million), while the latest kid-friendly offering from the evergreen local cartoon “Boonie Bears” franchise, “Boonie Bears: The Wild Life,” hit fourth with $36.5 million (RMB 236 million).

Period fantasy “The YinYang Master” grossed $26.3 million (RMB170 million) to rank fifth, while animation “New Gods: Nezha Reborn” — another of many takes on the life of its titular folk deity that hones in on his teenage years — was sixth with earnings of $22.8 million (RMB147 million).

Of the seven films that debuted Friday, the Andy Lau-starring “Endgame” came in last with $13 million (RMB84.3 million).

Commentaries left by local viewers online about their movie-going experiences indicate that the some of the most common sentiments this year include that tickets were hard to nab and also quite expensive. Indeed, the average ticket price for the seven new releases hit around $7.54 (RMB48.7).

The strong showing in China also made history for Imax. The company saw its best-ever opening weekend for a Chinese New Year holiday this year with earnings of $25 million — 45% more than its tally for the same period in 2019. “Detective Chinatown 3,” which was shot entirely on Imax cameras, was responsible for the win, accounting for $23.5 million, or 94%, of Imax sales. The two other new releases available in Imax were “New Gods” and “A Writer’s Odyssey,” which features more than an hour of expanded aspect ratio footage.

This marked the company’s biggest three-day opening ever for a Chinese film, surpassing the 2019 Chinese New Year standout “The Wandering Earth.” “Detective” also generated Imax’s strongest Friday-to-Sunday admissions of all time in China, selling 2.1 million tickets to beat out the 1.94 million of “Avengers: Endgame.” Imax “Detective Chinatown” sales accounted for 6% of the title’s total national box office, but only 1% of screens.

Friday also marked the first time that Imax has ever recorded more than a million admissions in a single day in any global market.

Edwin Tan, CEO of Imax China, assessed that China’s case indicates that “audiences emerging from the pandemic [are] seeking out the most immersive theatrical experience in the world.”

His colleague, Imax CEO Rich Gelfond, called China’s strong performance this weekend “an important milestone on our road to recovery at the global box office.”

“We suspected our fans would turn out for Chinese New Year in a big way, but these early returns have blown away even our most optimistic projections,” he said.