On Screen China: ‘Arrival’ Should Lead Sci-Fi-Packed Weekend

Arrival lands in China uncut, and should conquer the pre-holiday weekend.


Arrival (降临)

China Distribution – China Film Group Corporation (中国电影集团公司)
US Distribution – Paramount Pictures

Arrival, Paramount’s science-fiction headtrip starring Amy Adams as a linguistics professor tasked with decoding an alien language, descends into Chinese cinemas this weekend as the third Hollywood science fiction release in as many weeks.

More noteworthy than its genre is that Arrival enters China uncensored and uncut, a surprise in light of the film’’s initial depiction of China as led by unempathetic, militaristic hotheads.  (SPOILER ALERT! Perhaps predictably, this initial impression gets overturned when said militaristic Chinese hotheads ultimately come around to heroically save mankind, but this still possibly signals new frontiers in The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television’’s capacity for nuance and complexity.)

Arrival’s release follows Rogue One: A Star Wars Story — the current foreign box office king, sitting at RMB 401 million ($58.3 million) after two weeks of release — and Passengers, which has made RMB 191 million ($27.8 million) after one week, meaning this weekend will be the first ever that three imported science-fiction films place in the top five at China’s box office (the domestic comedy Some Like It Hot, whose aspirational manner has won audiences in smaller cities, has Hollywood huffing its fumes, at RMB 532 million and rising).

This foreign invasion will be short-lived, however, as exhibitors make ready for another record-breaking Lunar New Year holiday starting Saturday, January 28, when a handful of domestic films with blockbuster potential sweep into theaters.

Additionally, while the weekend may belong to Hollywood, it will likely also be among the slowest of the entire year. Many Chinese citizens will be trekking back home for the holiday or beginning their preparations for Friday night’s family banquet, leaving scant leisure time.

However, though Arrival’s pre-Lunar New Year release may be to its disadvantage, it could also wind up working on its behalf. With strong word of mouth this weekend, Arrival may be able to retain a small percentage of screens over the ensuing holiday—and even just a one or two percent screen share during the busiest moviegoing period on the calendar could provide a significant box office boost.

So will word of mouth take off? Past reception to other thought-provoking sci-fi films like The Martian (RMB 587 million, US$94.9 million) and Interstellar (RMB 755 million, $122 million) inclines us to think Arrival will be similarly well-received. At the same time, considering its release date and lack of pre-release buzz —local distributor and marketing partner YL Pictures (永乐文化) has had only two weeks to implement any kind of marketing — Arrival will have a difficult time reaching anywhere close to those films’ final box office tallies. Look for a first place finish this weekend around RMB 80 million ($11.5 million) on its way to RMB 140 million ($20 million) total.

Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly identified Huahua Media as Arrival’s marketing partner in China. It has been updated to reflect that the film’s Chinese distribution rights were purchased by YL Pictures (永乐文化)  and that they are its sole marketing partner.