China Box Office: Homegrown Hits Set Single-Day Record, ‘Panda’ Hibernates

Weekend sales of movie tickets in China nosedived as Chinese families instead gathered at home for Lunar New Year festivities, but gave way to a record-setting Monday of holiday moviegoing led by Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid.

Sunday’s box office total in the world’s second largest movie market was just $5.5 million, a figure that will in all likelihood be the lowest daily gross of 2016 as many of the nation’s cinemas shuttered their doors completely or only screened films for a few hours in the morning.

BO feb1-feb7 CFI

Last weekend’s champion Kung Fu Panda 3 (功夫熊猫3) once again dominated the chart and panda-rolled past the century mark to $103 million gross.

However, Panda’s $15.1 million Friday-through-Sunday total was a steep 70% drop-off from its debut, and it lost 90% of screens on Monday to a trio of homegrown behemoths, highlighting concerns about the wisdom of the timing of the release of the inaugural co-production between DreamWorks Animation and its Chinese joint-venture partner Oriental DreamWorks.

kungfu panda 3(103.05) CFI

The quiet Sunday was followed by a Monday explosion at the box office. In line with China Film Insider’s predictions, ticket sales on Lunar New Year’s Day or chū yī — the start of a seven-day “Golden Week” holiday — reached a record RMB 664 million ($101 million), the highest single-day gross ever tallied at the Chinese box office.

Stephen Chow’s comedy The Mermaid (美人鱼) led the charge with an estimated RMB 281 million ($42.7 million) — the biggest opening day of all time for a Chinese language film. From Vegas to Macau III (澳门风云3) and The Monkey King 2 (西游记之孙悟空三打白骨精) also had impressive debuts with RMB 184 million ($28 million) and RMB 172 million ($26.2 million), respectively. Kung Fu Panda 3 lagged far behind in fourth place with RMB 20.3 million ($3.1 million).

As the chū yī market was flooded with heavily subsidized discounted tickets purchased online by hordes of thrifty Chinese moviegoers, it will be difficult to gauge these films’ trajectories until after the first three days of the holiday, when ticket prices normalize and word of mouth becomes the driving force behind the films’ ticket sales.

— Follow Jonathan Papish on Twitter @ChinaBoxOffice