On Screen China: With Little Competition, Capt. America Holds on to Box Office Lead

  • Civil War may now have a difficult time crossing the $200 million we predicted earlier.
  • Latest Disney / Marvel outing is second at the box office, second only to Avengers: Age of Ultron
  • A high-quality pirated version of Civil War found on file-sharing sites this weekCaptAmerica_1200x750

Following Captain America: Civil War’s impressive $96 million debut at the Chinese box office last weekend, the latest Disney/Marvel superhero film has fallen back down to earth with daily drops of around 20% from Monday through Thursday.

The film’s gross currently stands at RMB 807 million ($123.8 million), the second highest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe behind only Avengers: Age of Ultron. But weekday hemorrhaging suggests Civil War may now have a difficult time crossing the $200 million we predicted earlier.

Word of mouth for the film is by-and-large positive —Douban’s rating has dropped just 1/10 of a point to 8.0/10 since we last checked in on Monday — so what could be causing this heavy front-loading?

Opening weekend tickets in China typically are subsidized through heavily market-leading third-party ticketing apps Maoyan, Gewara, and Nuomi. Moviegoers can snatch up premium priced IMAX tickets for sometimes as low as RMB 20 ($3) or standard tickets for RMB 9.9 ($1.50), a strong draw to the cinema for hordes of fans and passers-by looking for something to do on the weekend. The ticketing apps — bankrolled by such tech heavyweights as Baidu, Alibaba, or Tencent — then pay off the remaining price to Chinese theater chains.

Once ticket prices normalize during the week, these films see steep drop-offs in their box office returns. The bigger fan base a film has — such as superhero films — the deeper the plunge in ticket sales after the opening weekend since the majority of the base was incentivized to see a film in its first few days. Come the second weekend, a once-dominant film can virtually disappear from the box office charts if a film of the same magnitude enters cinemas with its own cheap, subsidized tickets.

Only films that can reach outside their existing fanbase and filter down into lower-tiered cities see long, healthy runs with strong week-to-week holds. Disney’s previous hit, Zootopia, is a prime example.

Compounding Civil War’s fall from grace was the appearance on file-sharing sites this week of a high-quality pirated version. Hard evidence of a pirated copy’s influence on box office returns is nearly impossible to cite, but its mere existence probably kept more casual moviegoers glued to their computer and cell-phone screens instead of racing to the nearest multiplex.

Luckily for Captain America: Civil War, Chinese moviegoers will have slim pickings in terms of new releases this weekend and may instead opt to pay full-price to see Marvel’s latest.

Actor Ryan Reynold’s worldwide hit Deadpool was barred from import into China in February due to extreme violence and sexual content, but Chinese fans can get a double dose of Reynolds’ mug this weekend in the psychological sci-fi thriller Self/Less (幻体:续命游戏) and the crime thriller Criminal (超脑48小时)..

Neither film possesses anything close to box office power, so despite a predicted 60%-70% drop this weekend, Captain America: Civil War will once again dominate China’s charts.