On Screen China: Summer Box Office Reignited By Record-Breaking ‘Wolf Warriors 2’

Patriotic action film Wolf Warriors 2, already China’s highest-grossing film of summer 2017 with RMB 2.2 billion ($328 million) and counting, will fly past Wonder Woman’s $397 million North American total after just its second weekend in theaters to become the summer’s top-grossing film in any single territory. Meanwhile, fantasy-romance Once Upon a Time will debut strongly thanks to the popularity of its attractive leads with a mostly female young-adult crowd.

Once Upon a Time (三生三世十里桃花)

China Distribution – Beijing Enlight Pictures (北京光线影业有限公司)
US Distribution – Well Go USA (In select NA cities August 11)

Based on the popular romantic-fantasy novel To the Sky Kingdom, which itself was adapted into the even more popular television series Eternal Lovethe generically-translated Once Upon a Time is the exact type of film teenaged Chinese girls swoon over: a pair of eerily similar-looking romantic leads — “Little Fresh Meat” Yang Yang (杨洋) as the Crown Prince of Heaven and Liu Yifei (刘亦菲) as the mortal he dares to fall in love with — overcome selective amnesia, jealous concubines, and hundreds of thousands of years spanning the immortal and mortal worlds to rediscover they were indeed destined for each other all along.

In fact, according to data from box office tracker Maoyan, females accounted for 65% of Once Upon a Time’s audience on its opening Thursday and 70% were under the age of 30. (On a personal note, I was one of only four males in a sold-out 126-seat Wanda auditorium in a fourth-tier Chinese city).

Once Upon a Time‘s popularity, first as a novel and then as television series, will pay big dividends at the box office this weekend, likely the reason why Alibaba Pictures optioned it in the first place. On Thursday, the film debuted with a hefty RMB 163 million ($24.3 million), second only to Wolf Warriors 2, but its limited audience appeal and the awful word of mouth already making social media rounds means Once Upon a Time will be one of the most front-loaded “blockbusters” since Tiny Times.

Wolf Warriors 2, on the other hand, is showing incredible legs at the box office. In fact, this weekend Wu Jing’s action sequel may even match its opening weekend total and challenge Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘ $149 million for the biggest second-weekend haul in history.