Chloe Zhao’s awards season frontrunner “Nomadland” has been approved for a limited release in China starting April 23 through the country’s arthouse cinema circuit, according to information published on the government-backed distributor China Film’s website.
The date would put its debut just three days ahead of the Academy Awards, where the title is expected to be a top pick. The ceremony will hit on April 26 local time because of the time difference with Los Angeles.
Zhao was born in Beijing but has made her career in the U.S. with projects exploring the American heartland such as “Songs My Brothers Taught Me” and “The Rider.” She is the director of the upcoming Marvel superhero extravaganza “Eternals,” which stars Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Salma Hayek and more.
“Nomadland” tells the story of the widow Fern (Frances McDormand) as she wanders the U.S. living out of her van after her husband dies and her town is decimated following the closure of the local U.S. Gypsum plant.
The film’s Chinese title has been rendered as “Wu Yi Zhi Di,” which roughly translates to “a place where nothing can be relied on.” The translation appears to deliberately harken back in tone to the Chinese-language title for the Coen Brothers’ “No Country for Old Men” — known as “Lao Wu Suo Yi,” or “the old have nothing to rely on.” Local reports have deemed it “exciting” that Zhao hails from China.
“Nomadland” first turned heads at its September Venice Film Festival premiere, where it won the Golden Lion before going on to nab the People’s Choice Award at Toronto.
At Sunday’s upcoming Golden Globes, the movie may take home even more gold. It has been nominated in the four key categories of best dramatic motion picture, best director, best screenplay and best actress.
In the U.S., “Nomadland” was released for a week online in early December, then on Imax on Jan. 29 and most recently simultaneously online via Hulu and in wide release last Friday, Feb. 19.
Searchlight has chosen not to release box office figures for its run. Estimates say that is has likely made around $673,000 so far — some $170,000 from its Imax run and a supposed $503,000 from its recent debut weekend at 1,175 locations. That tally would put it around seventh in last weekend’s box office.
Continued cinema closures due to COVID-19 contributed to poor sales. Only around 38% of U.S. cinemas are currently open, remaining shuttered in some of the country’s top ticket-buying markets like Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.
China’s National Arthouse Alliance of Cinemas accounts for around 3,700 of China’s 75,600 screens. It has imported only a half dozen or so out of the 80-odd films it has distributed so far, with one of the most successful being the Oscar-winning Freddie Mercury biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It grossed $14 million in its limited 2019 China release.
Given that most Chinese cinemas in the country are currently in operation, it looks very likely that no matter how small the title’s performance in China, it will exceed its North American box office.