Lionsgate Stoner Flop ‘American Ultra’ Heads for China

  • Both Jesse ‘Curly Hair’ Eisenberg and Kristin‘Twilight’ Stewart are known in China
  • Lionsgate hopes Eisenberg’s ‘Batman v. Superman’ role will help lift ‘American Ultra
  • Film latest in a string of Hollywood imports to get coveted Friday release after weak Lunar New Year
Jesse Eisenberg and Kristin Stewart in American Ultra (Lionsgate)

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristin Stewart in American Ultra (Lionsgate)

American Ultra, the off-beat stoner action comedy starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, will open in China on April 15, local media reported, the latest in a string of Hollywood films to secure a coveted Friday premiere following a weak lunar new year at  the box office.

The film whose returns have thus far disappointed North American mini-major Lionsgate is set to try to squeeze a little extra out of China, hoping to capitalize on the anticipated success of the Friday March 25 China release of DC Comics superhero film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, also featuring Eisenberg.

American Ultra’s Chinese name (废柴特工) translates roughly as “Loser Secret Agent” or “Good For Nothing Secret Agent” and so far promotional materials steer clear of referring to it as a “stoner” film—a whole genre in Western cinema total absent from China, where public discussion of drug use, even when recreational, is still far from the mainstream.

Eisenberg portrays a stoner who lives in a small town with his girlfriend (Stewart) when his past comes back to haunt him and he becomes the target of a government operation to kill him. Stewart, is well known to Chinese audiences due to her role as a teenager in love with a vampire in the Twilight franchise, the first installment of which was released in Chinese cinemas in 2009.

Eisenberg, sometimes referred to in the Chinese entertainment press as “Curly Hair,” was first introduced to Chinese cinema-goers in 2013 with the release of Now You See Me, and will likely see his reputation build following his star-turn in Batman v. Superman.

Lionsgate has had a string of disappointing box office results of late, including with American Ultra, which tanked in the U.S. Gods of Egypt, the $140 million budget swords-and-sandals epic, also has been a grand failure. It hit Chinese screens on March 11.

In March 2015, the studio secured $375 million to fund a slate of films with Hunan TV. Gods of Egypt was one of the films included in that slate.

The failure for these films to hit their target have hit the studio hard. Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer listed both Gods and Ultra as potential franchises in an earnings call in early 2014.

Additional reporting Congzhe Zhang