On Thursday, The Fate of the Furious became the highest-grossing film of 2017 and the fifth highest-grossing film ever in China, racing to RMB 1.686 billion ($245 million) in just seven days of release. However, steeper than anticipated weekday drops for Furious 8 — from RMB 152 million ($22.1 million) on Monday to RMB 71 million ($10.4 million) on Thursday — suggest demand for the Universal action sequel may already be waning after its historic opening weekend.
The culprit isn’t negative word of mouth — Furious 8 sits at 9.4/10 on Maoyan, the highest rating for a Hollywood film this year — nor is it the typical frontloading caused by rabid fans snapping up cheap seats on opening weekend; rather, the fate of The Fate of the Furious is tied directly to a fundamental issue in the Chinese film market: screen allotment.
Furious 8 was shown so aggressively by theater managers last weekend that it occupied nearly 75% of all showtimes nationwide. Some cinemas even scheduled screenings every ten minutes during peak hours. Yet in the end, on average, only half of the total seats available were filled: not exactly the most efficient use of China’s world-leading forty-five thousand movie screens.
And Furious 8 isn’t the only instance of this happening. Nearly every blockbuster — Chinese or Hollywood — opens with 50% or more of all available showtimes and then drops like a rock the following Friday when the next wide release dominates screens.
Luckily for Furious 8, the new wide releases this weekend including Sony’s Smurfs: The Lost Village, aren’t eating into its screen share too much. It will still account for a 49% of all showtimes on Friday. However Furious 8 is still at risk of losing a hefty 70-75% of its opening weekend business in its second frame, and until distributors steel themselves to release counterprogramming on the same weekend as blockbusters, thereby forcing shortsighted exhibitors to recognize how viewer choice equals increased profit, the same kind of pattern will continue.
Smurfs: The Lost Village (蓝精灵：寻找神秘村)
China Distribution – China Film Group Corporation (中国电影集团公司)
U.S. Distribution – Sony Pictures
A surprisingly popular IP in China, the Smurfs are one of those rare Western cultural touchstones to have officially entered the country during its “reform and opening up” era of the early 1980s; a wide swath of the post-70s/post-80s generation retains fond memories of gathering around the television to watch the blue elves, as they’re affectionately known in Mandarin.
Consequently, nostalgia now felt by a generation of parents with their own small children, combined with a release date ahead of the May 1 Labor Day holiday where it will be the sole family-friendly option, should drive Smurfs to a higher debut in China than the $13.2 million it made in North America two weeks ago, as well as to a final total between RMB 250 and 300 million ($~40 million).
At On Screen China, weekly box office analysis primarily concerns the weekend’s widest releases, films with the biggest breakout potential, and other newsworthy titles. But each weekend, smaller films, frequently referred to as “cannon fodder” in the Chinese media (paohui or 炮灰), squeeze into theaters, rarely selling more than a few hundred thousand dollars’ worth of tickets before disappearing into obscurity. The following table details these lesser releases in order to provide a sense of the huge scope of the world’s second largest film industry.
|Mr. Pride vs Miss Prejudice
|Tao Piao Piao Entertainment
|The Mysterious Family
|Heng Ye Film
|Snow in Midsummer
|Beijing G-POINT Film
|The Blood Hound
|Western Movie Group
|Western Movie Group