The new Star Wars franchise will play in China, but a day-and-date release seems unlikely.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (侠盗一号：星球大战外传), the first film in a new direction for the Star Wars universe, has secured cinematic release on the Chinese mainland, Disney told local media on Monday, although the studio did not confirm a specific date.
The highly anticipated announcement will further bolster analyst expectations the standalone film will dominate the box office. Recent tracking services expect the film to approach $150 million in its China launch.
Directed by Gareth Edwards and starring Felicity Jones, Rogue One will be released in certain European countries like Belgium and Sweden on December 14, followed by the United Kingdom on 15 December and North America on December 16.
It’s unlikely the film will be given a day-and-date release in China, however, where the schedule of foreign movies is already unusually crowded following an unofficial relaxation of the foreign film import quota.
Industry watchers have long expected the film to be released in China sometime in the first quarter of 2017. On Monday, local media speculated the most likely release date is January 6, 2017. IMDB lists the date as January 12, 2017, with Hong Kong opening December 15. 2016.
China Film Insider sought but did not receive confirmation of the exact release date from Disney.
With four or five sequels already in the offing, Disney is banking on the space-opera franchise gaining firmer purchase in the Chinese imagination.
The first three Star Wars films were never released theatrically in the country — coming out as they did in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution. The subsequent “prequels” that came out in 1999, 2002 and 2005 missed China’s box office explosion.
Disney execs are no doubt hoping the inclusion of Chinese stars Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen in Rogue One, which focuses on events preceding the 1977 classic, will help to invigorate the franchise in China.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (星球大战：原力觉醒) underperformed in China taking in just RMB 824.47 million (US$120 million) after four weeks. By comparison, the widely panned Warcraft earned RMB 1.4718 billion ($213 million)
But on the whole, the company has been the most successful Hollywood operator in the country this year, having secured releases for eight films including Star Wars: The Force Awakens (星球大战：原力觉醒), Captain America: Civil War (美国队长3) , Zootopia (疯狂动物城), The Jungle Book (奇幻森林), Finding Dory (海底总动员2), Alice Through the Looking Glass (爱丽梦游仙境2) as well as Doctor Strange (奇异博士), and Moana (海洋奇缘).
That has helped the Burbank, California-based company to enjoy its biggest year all time at the global box office, taking in $5.851 billion through November 1.
Disney’s Moana is currently in second place at China’s box office, after Warner Bros’ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, sitting on $12.1 million after opening in theaters last Friday. Meanwhile, Doctor Strange added a further $1.47 million over the weekend, taking its cumulative earnings in China to $108 million.
Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger even secured a rare meeting with China’s powerful president Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in May, six weeks before the opening of the Shanghai Disney Resort theme park in Shanghai.
The $5.5 billion park received one million visitors per month during its first four months, and could almost break even next year, according to the CEO.
Last week, the company unveiled plans for a $1.4 billion expansion of its Hong Kong Disneyland theme park as part of a six-year growth plan.
Disney has met with some minor setbacks in China in 2016, including the closing down of DisneyLife, a streaming video service the company launched at the end of 2015 in a joint venture with Alibaba.