China Box Office: Disney Wins Back Chinese Animation Record

  • Disney animation surges well past the RMB 1 billion mark in just over two weeks
  • Zootopia had the biggest third weekend for any film ever at the Chinese box office
  • The Revenant a close second for the weekend, fueled by DiCaprio’s star power
Leonardo DiCaprio receives a banner with his Chinese nickname during a promotional event for The Revenant (Image courtesy The Revenant official Weibo)

Leonardo DiCaprio presented with a banner with his Chinese nickname during a promotional event for The Revenant. (Image courtesy The Revenant official Weibo)

China’s new animation champion means that the crown once again belongs to Walt Disney Animation.

As of Sunday— after just 17 days of release— Zootopia had earned RMB 1.12 billion ($172 million) according to Shanghai-based entertainment research firm Artisan Gateway. Its RMB 241 million ($37.2 million) gross from March 19-March 21 was just 38% less than the previous weekend represented the biggest third weekend for any film ever at the Chinese box office.

Zootopia flew past DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 3 ($150 million) 16 days after its debut in China to become the all-time highest-grossing animation in the country, putting Disney back on top of the animation charts for the first time since 2008, when the original Kung Fu Panda supplanted the 13-year record held by The Lion King.

Mar 14 - Mar 20 Daily

Oriental Dreamwork’s Kung Fu Panda 3 had been widely expected to set a new record that would hold for years to come and to dominate a fiercely competitive year for animation in China that includes heavyweights such as Finding Dory (Disney/Pixar), Angry Birds (Sony), and Ice Age: Collision Course (Blue Sky/20th Century Fox)However, Panda’s bungled release date caused the U.S.-China co-production to stall just shy of RMB 1 billion. It held the title of highest-grossing animation for just 22 days before Zootopia took over on Saturday.

In a close second place, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Academy Award-winning turn as American frontiersman Hugh Glass in The Revenant debuted with an impressive three-day tally of RMB 208 million ($32 million). Traditionally, this type of Oscar fare hasn’t played well with Chinese audiences — The Artist earned just RMB 640,000 in 2011 and The King’s Speech just under RMB 1 million in 2010. The Revenant’s strong opening can be attributed solely to DiCaprio’s star power on the mainland.

The beloved actor greeted media and fans during a tightly controlled, but poorly organized promotional appearance in Beijing on Sunday. Clearly jet-lagged, “Little Li,” as he’s affectionately known throughout China, was a good sport on stage, putting up with the emcee’s incessant Chinese lessons, poor English translations of audience questions, and awkward fan gifts.

This trip to China was DiCaprio’s first ever to promote a film — he’s been three other times as an environmentalist — but it won’t be his last given The Revenant’s unprecedented box office success. Chinese distributors will be snapping up rights to any film “Little Li” appears in for years to come.

—Follow Jonathan Papish on Twitter @ChinaBoxOffice