China Box Office: ‘Warcraft’ Ticket Sales Come Under Scrutiny

  • 82 of top 100 grossing cinemas Saturday belonged to Wanda
  • Wanda dismissed creative accounting allegations
  • Finding Nemo sequel debut grossed $18.2M, Pixar’s best yet
Screenings on Warcraft’s second weekend fell nearly silent after record debut (Courtesy Weibo)

Screenings on Warcraft’s second weekend fell nearly silent after record debut (Courtesy Weibo)

Last weekend, the weekend of Friday June 10, Legendary’s Warcraft — bolstered by an enormous contingent of Chinese fans of the “World of Warcraft” online video game — scored the country’s biggest five-day opening of all-time with $156 million in ticket sales. Meanwhile, the video game adaptation crashed and burned upon arrival in North America, taking in just $24.2 million from a 3-day debut.

This weekend, starting Friday June 17, Disney/Pixar’s Finding Dory cruised to $136.2 million in North America, the biggest opening ever for an animated film. However, in China, where Pixar has failed to gain a foothold despite other Disney successes, moviegoers once again gave the animation studio a cold reception. The Finding Nemo sequel earned just RMB 118.6 million ($18.2 million).

Still, ‘Dory’’s modest debut is the biggest-ever opening for a Pixar title in China and it should overtake sequel Monsters University ($33.9 million) to become Pixar’s highest-grossing film in the territory.

Warcraft meanwhile earned its second straight weekend victory with RMB 159 million ($24.2 million), and now has grossed RMB 1.3464 billion ($205.0 million) in 12 days of release.

As expected, ticket sales for Warcraft have fallen precipitously after its record debut. This weekend’s gross was a steep 63% below its three-day $65 million total the weekend of June 10, and a killer 85% slide from its five-day opening haul.

Compounding issues for Wanda, the Chinese production/distribution/exhibition behemoth that purchased Legendary in February for $3.5 billion dollars and the company that stands to gain the most from Warcraft’s success, were claims of box office fraud that began surfacing on Chinese social media late Sunday night.

Nationwide box office data showed 82 of the top 100 grossing cinemas on Saturday belonged to Wanda, far above the usual 40 that usually constitute the list.

One theater in the city of Foshan, in southern Guangdong Province, saw ticket sales increase 406% from Friday, and somehow a Wanda cineplex in the city of flood-stricken Liuzhou in Guangxi Province had an average of 130 moviegoers per screening on Saturday; Warcraft’s highest average attendance was 93 during its midnight screenings. Something wasn’t adding up.

Dalian Wanda released a statement on Monday explaining that the increased cinema attendance was tied to a nationwide promotional activity that brought in record numbers of consumers to its shopping malls and that the box office spike wasn’t due to any nefarious accounting manipulation.

Still, the statement did little to quell speculation among industry observers dubious of Wanda’s power in every link of the Chinese film industry supply chain.