Tom Cruise failed to do the seemingly impossible in China over the weekend: Revive Hollywood’s former box-office muscle at the world’s second-biggest theatrical movie market.
Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One badly lost its opening weekend in China, debuting in third place behind a pair of holdover Chinese hits.
The Paramount and Skydance sequel opened to just $25.9 million from Friday to Sunday, a steep tumble from Mission: Impossible Fallout‘s $76 million opening back in 2018. Chinese martial arts drama Never Say Nevermeanwhile, earned $46.1 million, followed by local animation hits Chang An with $43.9 million.
Never Say Neverwritten and directed by local comedy favorite Wang Baoqiang (Lost in Thailand, Detective Chinatown), has brought in a healthy $211.5 million since its July 6 opening. Chang Anthe latest release from pioneering Beijing-based animation studio Light Chaser, launched on July 8 and has a current total of $96.1 million.
Ticketing app Maoyan forecasts Mission: Impossible 7 to finish its China run with just $60 million, down from M: I 6‘s $181 million total in 2018 and M: I 5‘s $136.7 million haul in 2015.
Local reviews for Cruise’s latest turn as Ethan Hunt have been remarkably strong. The film scored 9.4 on Maoyan, 9.5 on Alibaba’s Taopiaopiao and 7.9 on Douban — very healthy numbers. But Chinese filmgoers just aren’t coming out for American movies the way they once did.
China’s theatrical box office results for the first half of 2023 became available earlier this month — and the numbers are pretty grim for Hollywood.
After abruptly lifting its strict COVID-19 lockdowns late last year, China has resumed importing US movies at pre-pandemic levels in 2023, one of Beijing’s many moves intended to signal to the world that it is back open for business. In the first half of 2023, 24 US titles were released in Chinese cinemas, just two fewer than during the same stretch in 2019, according to Artisan Gateway.
Overall, China’s theatrical market has staged a strong recovery recently. Total movie ticket revenue reached $3.8 billion (RMB 26.3 billion) in the first six months of the year, down just 16 percent from 2019 (and an improvement of 54 percent compared to last year, when Chinese cinemas were still hobbled by mass lockdowns).
Local Chinese movies, meanwhile — again evidenced this weekend by Never Say Never and Chang An‘s strong holds — are doing bigger business than ever. In the first half of 2023, thanks to a booming Chinese New Year release season, total sales for Chinese titles surged to $2.8 billion, up 27 percent from the equivalent period in the year before the pandemic.
The earnings shortfall that remains is almost entirely due to the plummeting earnings of US movies in China, analysts have noted. Despite Hollywood tentpoles resuming their flow into China at a healthy rate, total ticket sales for US movies clocked in at just $592 million for the first six months of the year, a steep slide from the $1.9 billion earned during the same stretch in 2019.
Hopes are relatively high for the earnings potential of Greta Gerwig and Warner Bros. Barbie, which opens in China on Friday. But the US film will face some extremely tough local competition. The first installment of Chinese director Wuershan’s Fengshen Trilogydubbed “China’s answer to Lord of the Rings,” opens on Thursday, boasting a star-packed cast and the biggest production budget of any film in Chinese moviemaking history.
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