On Screen China: New Releases Hope to Capture Some of the Force at the Box-Office

Thanks to an unenthusiastic reception from mainland audiences for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, several new releases — both imported and local — have the opportunity this weekend to sweep into theaters and grab a larger share of the market than previously anticipated.

The Last Witch Hunter (最后的巫师猎人)Friday, January 15
Distributor: China Film Group (中国电影集团公司)

Vin Diesel’s universally panned vanity project from Summit Entertainment earned just $27.4 million in North America last October, but it grossed nearly $81 million overseas, where the Fast & Furious star remains a strong box office draw. However, The Last Witch Hunter’s comes to China as a flat-fee “buy out” film almost three months after its worldwide rollout, which means that high quality bootlegs have already flooded the market and hurt the film’s already limited box office potential.

Nonetheless, Vin Diesel and action fans will give The Last Witch Hunter a strong front-loaded weekend, and China should become the film’s top-grossing overseas territory, surpassing the $9 million it grossed in Brazil.

Solace (神探)Thursday, January 14
Distributor: China Film Group (中国电影集团公司)

Solace, a serial-killer thriller starring Anthony Hopkins and Colin Farrell, will be one of the few flat-fee “buy out” films to premiere in China ahead of North America after its  U.S. release date fell into limbo as a result of distributor Relativity Studios’ Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in July. 

New York-based FilmNation Entertainment sold the China distribution rights to Infotainment China (The Nut Job, Spy Kids 4) and Solace is being imported and distributed by state-owned China Film Group.

Solace grossed an estimated $2.1 million on its opening Thursday, second to top ranked The Force Awakens.

Go Fighting (极限挑战)Friday, January 15
Distributor: iQiyi Pictures (爱奇艺影业有限公司)

Big screen adaptations of hit variety and reality television shows have become popular in recent years since studios can depend on the show’s existing fan base to show up at movie theaters.

The trend dates to 2014, when Dad, Where Are We Going? (爸爸去哪儿) grossed a staggering $106 million at the box office, then continued with last year’s Running Man (奔跑吧!兄弟), which managed $65.1 million. Public support for these overt cash-grabs has been waning, however, and a poor showing by Go Fighting could signal the end of this overdone fad.

Boonie Bears III (熊出没之熊心归来) Saturday, January 16  
Distributor: Le Vision Pictures (乐视影业有限公司)

Before Monkey King: Hero Is Back shocked Chinese audiences with its technical prowess this summer, the gold standard in Chinese animation was the Boonie Bears series. The first film, To The Rescue ($37.5 million), was the highest-grossing local language animated feature before the second installment, Mystical Winter ($44.3 million), topped it last winter. The Bears’ third outing should continue the upward trend.

Boonie Bears III earned $3.9 million in previews last weekend, good enough for sixth place on the weekend chart.

—Follow Jonathan Papish on Twitter: @ChinaBoxOffice