China Box Office: Evil Takes Up Residence, Sets New Precedent

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, the sixth and now perhaps no longer “final” — installment in Screen Gems’ action-horror series, exploded in the world’s second largest film market this weekend, grossing a staggering RMB 636.9 million ($92.7 million) according to official local sources.

Reported box office totals varied slightly by outlet — Shanghai-based cinema consulting firm Artisan Gateway had its opening weekend at $93.9 million while Sony’s came in even higher with $94.3 million — but any way you slice it, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter scored the biggest Friday through Sunday debut ever for an imported film, topping such heavyweights as Transformers: Age of Extinction (RMB 632 million) and Captain America: Civil War (RMB 628 million).

Resident Evil’s final tally will be dependent on next weekend’s box office performance of Logan — another R-rated “farewell” piece — but for now it looks like the Milla Jovovich-starrer is headed for a Warcraft-level $225 million finish.

Resident Evil’s Chinese box office coup — likely to be nearly ten times more than the film’s North American total, and two-thirds of its total worldwide haul — is yet another success for local distributor Leomus Pictures (师鼠影业), the company behind the Chinese releases for Now You See Me 2, Escape Plan, and Drive Angry, all of which grossed more in China than North America.  According to an industry insider with knowledge of the deal, Leomus purchased Resident Evil’s Chinese distribution rights from producer Constantin Pictures for some $7 million.

Unlike standard non-import-quota “flat-fee buy-out” deals, however, in which box office receipts would be paid entirely to Leomus, Resident Evil’s producers appear to be on the forefront of a new kind of model that allows them to share some upside when the film is a major hit.  Per statements made by Leomus CEO Qiu Jie to Capital (娱乐资本论), Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is properly neither a revenue-sharing import nor a true buy-out, because of terms apportioning 50% of box office revenue exceeding RMB 500 million to Constantin Film.

In essence, Leomus is acting as a distribution agent on Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, a middleman between Constantin Pictures and China Film Group, additionally leveraging its local marketing power in lower-tier cities.

Imported films additionally occupied the next four top spots at the box office this weekend.

Resident Evil’s rival video game adaptation Assassin’s Creed stalled in the face of stiff competition, debuting with RMB 116.5 million ($17.0 million).

Sing had a strong weekend hold with RMB 48 million ($7.0 million) and has now grossed RMB 164 million ($23.7 million) after 10 days of release.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage — which looked to be the surprise hit of winter 2016, but now will have to play second fiddle to Resident Evil — lost many of its screens and fell 76% from the previous weekend to gross RMB 43 million ($6.3 million). The action sequel starring Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Kris Wu, and Tony Jaa has now earned a remarkable RMB 1.05 billion ($152.2 million).

Rounding out the top five, La La Land took in RMB 16 million ($2.3 million) this weekend. The musical — which secured six Oscar statues Sunday night, but was stiffed the Best Picture prize in a bizarre, surprise ending to the awards ceremonies — has grossed a respectable RMB 209 million ($30.4 million) thanks in large part to its Valentine’s Day release.