Star Wars in China sputters in week two

Updated: 2016-01-22 12:44

By Amy He in New York(China Daily USA)

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 Star Wars in China sputters in week two

Promoters pulled out all the stops ahead of the first public screening of Disney Star Wars: The Force Awakens at the Wanda Cinema in Guangzhou, Guangdong province on Jan 9. Provided to China Daily

The long-awaited new installment of Star Wars may not be the blockbuster at the Chinese box office that analysts expected.

The Disney film, which has already passed $1 billion in global box-office receipts, saw a 61 percent decline in its second weekend at the Chinese box office, according to Box Office Mojo.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens grossed nearly $15 million the weekend of Jan 15, down from $53 million for its opening weekend. The movie's nearly three-week total is $101 million.

"Publicly, Disney is calling The Force Awakens a probable $115-million- to $125-million- run in China a success given 'the relatively low awareness' for the franchise there and that its performance 'bodes well for the future,'" said Jonathan Papish, a writer for China Film Insider, an online website that tracks the Chinese box office.

"However, looking at pre-release buzz, many analysts predicted at least $250 million - I was one of the few skeptical ones from the outset and it still won't reach my initial $150 million prediction - and social media chatter in China is also disconcerting for future installments," he said.

The film really "failed to strike a chord with younger filmgoers in interior cities with many saying they were confused or bored with the plot and unimpressed with fight scenes that pale in comparison to wuxia movies," Papish added, referring to stories about ancient Chinese martial artists.

Disney marketed Star Wars heavily in China, staging Stormtroopers on the Great Wall, holding Star Wars-related exhibitions around the country, and advertising the franchise with pop star Lu Han as the brand's ambassador. Papish said that Chinese awareness for the Star Wars' brand has "certainly increased," but the negative reception amongst "the most important demographic for box office growth means Disney still has its work cut out for them."

The number of screens showing Star Wars declined between the first and second weekends, with nearly 168,000 theaters showing it during the opening weekend and dropping to 66,5000 screens in the second weekend.

The film might struggle more in coming weekends as Kung Fu Panda 3 is set to be released on Jan 29 and then the upcoming Lunar New Year means that the box office blackout month will likely begin to make way for domestic features.

"The decline [in box office revenue] has been quick and will be quick-even though Star Wars has done well in China, it hasn't done as well and certainly not compared to the international success of Star Wars. Their performance has not been as strong, especially given the size of the China market," said Stanley Rosen, professor at the University of Southern California.

"That has to do with the lack of knowledge about the first six Star Wars films, but also because when people see the first six movies - like the 1977 film - it doesn't have the same kind of special effects. They didn't grow up with Star Wars like people from other countries have done, and so one could expect it will be an uphill battle for Disney," he said.

Disney did a good job with marketing and the movie will do "reasonably well," but not compared to other major blockbusters like Furious 7 and the Jurassic World, he said. But Disney will be aided by the upcoming opening of its new theme park in Shanghai, Rosen added, which will have a section devoted to Star Wars.