China Box Office: ‘Batman v Superman’ Fails to Pack a Punch

  • Three-day opening weekend estimated at $57 million, with muted reception among casual moviegoers
  • Second weekend will see precipitous drop, film will fall far below expectations
  • Continues trend of Hollywood blockbusters underperforming after failing to gain traction with China’s increasingly picky mainstream audience
Promotional posters for Batman v Superman at a Wanda Cineplex in Hubei Province (Jonathan Papish)

Promotional posters for Batman v Superman at a Wanda Cineplex in Hubei Province (Jonathan Papish)

Warner Bros.’ promise of an epic throwdown between the world’s two most beloved superheroes isn’t translating to epic box-office numbers in the world’s number two moviegoing market.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (蝙蝠侠大超人:正黎明debuted in China with a coveted Friday day-and-date with the US, earning RMB 129 million ($19.8 million) including RMB 8.8 million ($1.35 million) from Thursday midnight screenings.

Notably, its opening day was the sixth biggest ever for a Hollywood import, and after the late-night Thursday showings its online user rating on cultural website Douban soared to 8.1/10, likey fueled by initial fanboy reaction.

However, as a broader class of Chinese moviegoers took to the cinemas over the weekend, that score tumbled to 6.7/10 Saturday saw a measly 13% increase in ticket sales to RMB 145 million ($22.3 million). In comparison, Spectre — which was widely shunned by Chinese audiences following its $49 million debut in November — had a 30% bump on its first Saturday.

Things will only get worse for what was supposed to be a gangbusters kickoff to Warner Bros.’ challenge to Disney’s wildly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sunday saw a steep 33% drop at the box office, giving Batman v Superman RMB 372 million ($57.1 million) for the three-day weekend, according to initial reported figures, a bit below analyst expectations of $70-$80 million.

Weekday drops will continue to hit the film hard, and increased competition from local films opening for the Tomb Sweeping Holiday next Friday are likely to see its box office receipts drop by a precipitous 80% or more in its second weekend. In the end, Batman v Superman’s box office receipts will likely crawl just over the $100 million threshold, far below initial predictions of $150-$230 million.

Mar 21 - Mar 27 Daily

Dawn of Justice is keeping up with the trend that sees Hollywood live-action blockbusters underperforming in the territory after failing to strike a chord with China’s increasingly picky mainstream audience: Avengers: Age of Ultron couldn’t live up to its lofty expectations, despite raking in $240 million for Disney; Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation ($135.6 million) misfired even though it was backed by Alibaba; and Spectre ($83.5 million) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($125.4 million) both crashed and burned due to poor word of mouth following strong fan-fueled opening weekends.

Batman v Superman will meet a fate similar to the latter two films, and just as The Force Awakens failed to lay important groundwork for Disney’s future Star Wars installments, Batman v Superman’s tepid reception this weekend in both North America  and China means that Warner Bros.’ plans to establish an enduring cinematic comic book universe that could rival Disney’s Marvel is off to a sputtering start.

Meanwhile, both Zootopia and The Revenant continued with their unexpected breakthroughs in China. The wildly successful Disney animation’s total now stands at RMB $1.3 billion, just shy of breaking $200 million after four weeks in theaters, while the DiCaprio vehicle has hit RMB 332 million ($51 million) – despite a polarizing reception and mixed word of mouth, the actor’s star power in China has kept curious audiences coming to see his Oscar-winning performance.

—Follow Jonathan Papish on Twitter @ChinaBoxOffice