After six straight weekends of a government imposed ban on imported films that helped reignite the local film industry thanks to the singular box office performance of Wolf Warrior II, foreign films were once again permitted into theaters this Friday, yet all three new wide releases — Valerian, Cars 3, and Baby Driver — failed to cash in with Chinese moviegoers.
Luc Besson’s VFX-driven sci-fi adventure Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (星际特工：千星之城) was the warmest-received of the new imported releases, and its RMB 178 million* ($26.8 million) debut was good enough to unseat four-time reigning champ Wolf Warrior II for the top spot this weekend.
But despite outpacing its $17 million North American opening last month, Valerian‘s eventual $50-$55 million haul from China will do little to assuage Besson’s multiple investors — including China’s own Fundamental Films, which owns a minority stake in Besson’s production company EuropaCorp and threw in an additional $50 to $60 million of its own capital — who were banking on a robust box office take from China to offset Valerian‘s poor showing elsewhere.
In its fifth weekend in theaters, Wolf Warrior II (战狼II) secured a strong second place finish with RMB 99 million* ($14.9 million). Wolf also had the highest per-screening average attendance of any film in wide release this weekend, illustrating just how poorly the new imports were received.
Wolf is currently the third highest-grossing film ever from a single territory with RMB 5.037 billion* ($757.8 million). It will pass Avatar ($760.5 million) early this week to grab second place behind only Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($936.7 million).
Disney/Pixar’s Cars 3 (赛车总动员3：极速挑战) continued the animation studio’s surprising struggles in China, debuting with just RMB 67 million* ($10.0 million).
The highest-grossing Pixar film in the territory is and will remain last year’s Finding Dory ($38.5 million).
Pixar’s per title box office revenue from China regularly accounts for just 1 to 2 percent of a film’s worldwide gross, which pales in comparison to many other Hollywood animation studios, including Universal’s Illumination Entertainment, which has found unparalleled success with the Despicable Me franchise in China.
Lagging behind in fourth place, Sony’s Baby Driver (极盗车神) sputtered off the start line this weekend, debuting with just RMB 59* million ($8.9 million). Western critics and audiences had hailed the Edgar Wright-directed film for its kinetic, musically-infused action set-pieces, but these same elements left younger Chinese moviegoers unimpressed and many likened their moviegoing experience more to sitting through a lengthy music video than an actual action film.
Hollywood tries to get back on track next Friday with the release of Chinese favorite Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.
*All listed grosses in this article are adjusted to remove online ticketing fees. For a primer on why CFI reports this way, see here.