China Box Office: Chan, Knoxville ‘Skiptrace’ $6oM Clobbers ‘Tarzan’

  • Apparent loosening of restrictions saw three imports hit Chinese box this past weekend
  • China-Hong Kong co-pro a first for Chan and Knoxville together on screen
  • Skiptrace dominated 57% of ticket sales, while Warner Bros’ jungle hero drew just 15%

Jackie Chan and Johnny Knoxville in Skiptrace (Beijing Talent International Media Co.)

Thanks to the apparent loosening of import restrictions, the Chinese box office saw a rare summertime showdown between a local film and Hollywood fare in which local moviegoers overwhelmingly chose Jackie Chan’s Skiptrace (绝地逃亡)—also starring Johnny Knoxville—over The Legend of Tarzan, which has no Chinese elements.

The action buddy-comedy Skiptrace, starring 62 year-old Chan and American Jackass star Knoxville scored RMB 409 million ($62.3 million) for Beijing Talent International Media Co. in its 4-day debut, the largest local debut since Ip Man 3 fought to RMB 471 million in early March.

Skiptrace dominated the box office over the weekend, accounting for 57% of ticket sales. Meanwhile, second place ‘Tarzan’ secured just 15% of the weekend’s moviegoing business. The Warner Bros’ jungle hero film debuted in first place at its opening Tuesday with $7.0 million, but quickly lost screens to Chan’s Skiptrace on Thursday. ‘Tarzan’ swung to just RMB 80.6 million ($12.0 million) over the weekend, bringing its six-day total to RMB 183 million ($27.4 million).

‘Tarzan’ was given an unusual July release date. Typically, the month has been reserved for domestic fare, but this year Chinese regulators allowed five imported films into the country. This week saw three imported releases — ‘Tarzan’, Japanese animation Doraemon: Nobita and the Birth of Japan 2016 (哆啦A梦:新·大雄的日本诞生) and Indian historical epic Baahubali: The Beginning.

Doraemon,’ featuring one of Asia’s most recognizable animated characters, opened with RMB 54.2 million ($8.1 million) over the three-day weekend.  This installment of the cute cat franchise clearly didn’t strike the same chord with Chinese moviegoers as 2015’s Stand By Me Doraemon, which stunned analysts by grossing $86.9 million (currently the sixth highest-grossing animated feature in China) amidst a wave of nostalgia from the post-80s generation who grew up watching Doraemon on television.

Stand By Me Doraemon is also credited with thawing Sino-Japanese relations after a dispute in 2012 over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands caused Chinese regulators to ban entry for all Japanese imported films. Since Doraemon’s surprising box office performance, a string of Japanese films have been able to enter the country.

The other imported film this weekend, India’s Baahubali: The Beginning, failed to meet its country’s high expectations, taking in roughly $630,000 in three days.

Bollywood comedy PK grossed an impressive $19.4 million in China in 2015, opening up talks between the two countries for more co-production opportunities, and exciting Indian producers looking to gain access to the world’s second largest and fastest growing film market.

Indian press had been building the hype for Baahubali’s China release for months and, despite steep discounts on most Chinese online ticketing sites, as well as local media coverage, moviegoers stayed away. The film debuted on just 2% of screens nationwide, and average attendance totaled just twelve moviegoers per screening over the weekend.

— Follow Jonathan Papish on Twitter @ChinaBoxOffice