- “The Last Jedi” has met its match at the box office, and it’s a comedy out of China.
- The lastest “Star Wars” movie will not finish in first place for its opening weekend theatrical release in China.
- There is a long history why the “Star Wars” franchise doesn’t perform well in the country.
Though it only took three weeks for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” to shoot to the top of the 2017 domestic box office, as well as dominate the attention of moviegoers in other countries, China has always proven to be the franchise’s Achilles’ heel. And while you might think China’s strong domestic movie market explains it, there’s more to the story of why “Star Wars” has struggled.
“The Last Jedi” kicked off preview showings Thursday night as it opens in China this weekend, and the result wasn’t very impressive.
“The Last Jedi” earned $7 million (RMB50.1 million) by Friday 7 p.m. local time, according to Variety. Combine that with midnight screenings and Thursday night previews, the total is $8.28 million. However, the China-produced comedy “The Ex-File” took in $15.7 million (RMB102 million) by 7 p.m. It now has a total gross of $129 million (RMB838 million) over the eight days it’s been in theaters, and is playing on fewer screens than “Jedi” (“Jedi” has approximately a 35.6% share of all Chinese screens compared to Ex-File‘s 32.3%).
“Jedi” will come in second to “Ex-File” with a three-day total between $25 million and $30 million, according to Deadline.
That’s right, a “Star Wars” movie will be beat out in its opening weekend in China by a comedy that had already been in theaters for a week.
This isn’t the first time “Star Wars” has struggled in China.
“The Force Awakens” earned $124 million ($52.3 million opening) in its 2016 release in China, putting it in 13th place for the year in the country (it’s the all-time best earner in North America). “Rogue One” did even worse last year, despite having Chinese stars Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen. It just took in $69.5 million, with a $30.6 million opening weekend (35th place at the China box office).
One theory is that the China movie market is so strong – very close to surpassing the US as the largest theatrical market in the world – that “Star Wars” has a lot of homegrown content to compete with.
But there’s a more realistic reason.
“The ‘Star Wars’ brand doesn’t resonate in China like it does in other parts of the world because there has not been a long-term relationship with the franchise,” comScore box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian told Business Insider. “The characters that have become iconic in other countries – in the United States Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo have been elevated to revered cult status – there is no such feeling in China and that has impacted the box office prospects there.”
The reason for this is because China has only been familiar with the “Star Wars” saga since the late 1990s, when the prequels were the first-ever part of “Star Wars’ shown in the country (outside of piracy). The original trilogy wasn’t released in China until “A New Hope” opened in 2015.
The late start for China is due to the decades of the country blocking Western culture. Disney has since put a full-court marketing push to get the Chinese to go insane over “Star Wars” like the rest of the world has, but clearly the studio still has a lot of work ahead of it.