The numbers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, laid out in a new Hollywood Reporter item, are in for its first two weekends of release in China — the second largest box-office market in the world — and they are not good. While many American blockbusters open in China with numbers comparable, or even better, than their opening weekends in America, The Last Jedi opened with only $28 million, or about a tenth of the $220 million opening weekend statewide. Even more devastating for the movie is the 92 percent plummet in its second weekend, when it only earned $2.4 million. For comparison’s sake, Ben Affleck’s Gigli, which suffered one of the biggest drops of all time at the American box office, only dropped 81 percent in its second weekend.
So what’s going on here? It’s certainly not that China rejects American blockbusters. The Fast and the Furious franchise is a massive hit in China. Last year’s The Fate of the Furious earned $392 million (compared to the $226 million it earned in America) while the latest Transformers movie racked up $100 million more there than it earned in the States. In fact, China has salvaged a lot of would-be box-office bombs, like Geostorm, which will earn more in China than The Last Jedi.
The problem is not specific to American movies or even sequels. It’s specific to movies franchises like Star Wars, which doesn’t possess the nostalgic hold over China the way it does in America. The original trilogy didn’t open in China, and China wasn’t yet a global force when the second trilogy came out in 1999 (Phantom Menace earned only $4 million at the Chinese box office). But it’s more than the simple lack of nostalgia, as The Hollywood Reporter explains, It’s also that the Star Wars films are built on a foundation that doesn’t exist in China.
All the references within the Star Wars universe mean little to the average moviegoer in China. Granted, The Force Awakens earned a modest $128 million in China, but much of that was generated out of curiosity for a franchise that is huge overseas. However, Harrison Ford’s return in The Force Awakens obviously wouldn’t have created the excitement that it did here to a bunch of moviegoers in China unfamiliar with Han Solo. The Last Jedi, meanwhile, is about Luke Skywalker, a character with whom they have little emotional connection.
Conversely, while the first several installments of the Fast and Furious movies didn’t open wide in China, that franchise doesn’t really require prior knowledge of the series. They’re like Law & Order episodes: There’s little to no backstory, and very little need to get up to speed.
Nevertheless, The Last Jedi has managed to earn over $1.2 billion without the benefit of a huge following in the second largest market in the world. The Star Wars films will do just fine, and Star Wars is not alone among massive worldwide franchises who don’t gain a huge benefit from China. The Marvel franchise — which also relies more heavily on prior knowledge of the series — aren’t nearly as big in China as they are in the rest of the world, either. Only $180 million of the nearly $1.2 billion earned by Captain America: Civil War came from China, while The Avengers — the 5th biggest movie of all time worldwide with $1.5 billion — only earned $89 million of that in China. The Harry Potter films didn’t earn a huge cut of their profits from China, either.
So it is possible to succeed on a global scale without much assistance from China, but given the rewards that do come from the Chinese box office, we can continue to expect more empty but entertaining spectacles like Fast and the Furious and xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, which more than tripled its American box-office take in China.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter