On Screen China: ‘Passengers’ Takes on ‘Rogue One’

Behind the popularity of its stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, Passengers will attempt to lead an intergalactic coup that could dethrone the struggling Rogue One from the top of the Chinese box office.

Stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt received gifts from Chinese fans while in Beijing to promote Passengers (Courtesy Mtime).

Stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt received gifts from Chinese fans while in Beijing to promote Passengers (Courtesy Mtime).

Passengers (天空旅客)

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

Chinese moviegoers are receiving a triple-dose of American sci-fi in the weeks leading up to what could be another record-breaking Lunar New Year holiday at the box office.

This weekend brings Sony’s Passengers, the sci-fi romance starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt that has struggled critically and commercially in North America since its release on December 21.

Passengers’ box office prospects in China are similarly limited given the typically slow moviegoing period prior to the all-out frenzy of Chinese New Year, but dwindling demand for last weekend’s sci-fi adventure, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, will give Passengers a decent shot at winning the weekend box office.

In addition, a raft of other new releases — including Kubo and the Two Strings and Eye In The Sky, both delayed several months since their North American premieres and both with HD versions available to download on torrent sites — will also eat into Rogue One’s screen share this weekend.

CFI predicts that ticket sales for Rogue One, which currently sits at RMB 301 million ($43.6 million) after a week of release, will fall 65 to 70 percent from its opening weekend business, and gross ~$11 million.

Meanwhile Passengers, riding the wave of Pratt and Lawrence’s popularity in China, could reach close to RMB 90 million ($13 million) this weekend.

Pratt and Lawrence are both adored by Chinese fans for their charm and, as is often the case with popular Western celebrities, have earned Chinese nicknames. Pratt is simply known as 星爵 (Xīng jué) or “Star-Lord” after Chinese fans became enamored with his character from Guardians of the Galaxy. Lawrence is called 大表姐 (Dà biǎojie) or “Elder Cousin,” a considerably more complex nickname to explain. Lawrence’s last name is a popular watch brand in China and the Chinese word for “watch” contains the character 表 (biǎo) meaning “cousin.” Got it?

Star-Lord and Elder Cousin both traveled to China to promote Passengers in December before the film’s release date was even announced. The local marketing push, including a theme song titled “Light Years Away” by G.E.M., has centered on Passengers’ romantic elements. With fans clamoring to see Pratt and JLaw’s on-screen chemistry, the film’s hashtag on Weibo hit a crescendo with 21.8 million views during their trip to Beijing, and had the film secured a day-and-date release or better timed the publicity tour, perhaps it could have carried that heat to the box office.

However, in just a few week’s time, the Passengers buzz has cooled off significantly and, hindered by a less-than-ideal pre-Lunar New Year release, the film will barely have time to lift off before it comes crashing back down to Earth.