The poor openings of two new films meant a better second weekend for the Matt Damon-starrer The Great Wall.
Despite a Christmas Eve rush which boosted China’s total box office to RMB 312.5 million ($45.0 million) on Saturday — the highest daily total since Warcraft’s second day of release on June 9 — both Railroad Tigers (铁道飞虎) and See You Tomorrow (摆渡人) debuted well below expectations.
As predicted, the new releases took the top two spots at the weekend box office, pushing last weekend’s victor The Great Wall to a third place finish with RMB 184 million ($26.5 million). However, overwhelmingly negative reactions from both audiences and critics for Railroad Tigers and See You Tomorrow enabled Zhang Yimou’s epic monster movie to save some face from what could have been a disastrous second-weekend plummet. The Great Wall has now earned a total of RMB 833 million ($120 million) and will likely pass RMB 1 billion thanks to more weak competition than its quality.
See You Tomorrow, a romantic comedy produced by Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-Wai and starring Tony Leung, Takeshi Kineshiro, and Angelababy, debuted in first place with RMB 278 million ($40 million) over the three-day Christmas weekend. Moviegoers gave the film a pitiful 4.4/10 rating on Douban and professional critics weren’t any kinder.
Most complaints centered on See You Tomorrow’s hackneyed plot and awkward dialogue, and the negative word of mouth seems to have affected the film’s Sunday box office performance. See You Tomorrow fell a steep 30 percent from Saturday, nearly twice an overall daily box office decrease of 17 percent.
Jackie Chan’s action-comedy Railroad Tigers opened in second place with RMB 215 million ($30.1 million) and only dipped 3 percent from Saturday to Sunday despite audience and critical ratings only marginally better than See You Tomorrow’s.
The discrepancy caught the watchful eyes of netizens who began to suspect Railroad Tigers of possible box office fraud. Sure enough, a quick scan of data provided by Mtime shows that 26 of the top 30 highest-grossing theaters on Saturday for Railroad Tigers belong to the Sparkle Roll (Yaolai) International Cinema line. Yaolai is also the production company behind Railroad Tigers, with its parent company a business partner in many ventures with Chan. Further fueling the speculation, some of these cinemas allotted as high as 80 percent of their daily screenings to Railroad Tigers on Saturday. The nationwide average was just 26 percent.
This latest case comes after China’s film bureau threatened punishment to offending parties following Ip Man 3’s blatant box office manipulation in March.
It should also continue to raise concerns that vertically integrated film companies with serious conflicts of interest — e.g., Wanda inflating Warcraft’s box office revenue at its own cinemas or withholding screenings from films distributed by rival Huayi — can easily rig the system in their favor without consequence.