LOS ANGELES — The field workplace motion over the weekend befell in China, the place “Aquaman” collected a $94 million in tickets, validating a dangerous plan by Warner Bros. to launch the film within the Middle Kingdom earlier than anyplace else.
Hollywood has realized a lot about Chinese moviegoers lately, however releasing movies within the nation — the world’s No. 2 market behind the United States — stays a crapshoot for American studios. Warner and different Hollywood firms can’t distribute their very own films in China; they have to depend on the state-owned China Film Group. Chinese censors typically don’t clear American movies for distribution till the relative final minute, hindering advertising and marketing efforts.
And Chinese audiences have grown extra selective about Hollywood films, at instances displaying a new choice for domestically made films just like the extravagant “Operation Red Sea,” directed by Dante Lam, often called the Michael Bay of Asia.
The upshot: “Aquaman,” starring Jason Momoa because the DC Comics superhero and directed by James Wan, might have simply flopped in China, which might have left a stink on the film forward of its world rollout. “Aquaman,” which value an estimated $350 million to make and market worldwide, will arrive in 40 extra nations on Friday. Audiences in North America could have the possibility to see it beginning on Dec. 21.
Warner determined to pursue an early launch date for “Aquaman” in China to keep away from the nation’s conventional end-of-year blackout period for American movies. Opening first in China — where Wan has a following, having directed the smash hit “Furious 7” — would also allow Warner to limit the impact of piracy, which is rampant in the country. Piracy was a major factor in the recent failure of Warner’s “Crazy Rich Asians” at the Chinese box office; the romantic comedy’s release in China came three months after its rollout elsewhere in the world.
Why didn’t Warner just release “Aquaman” this weekend in North America as well?
The two weekends after Thanksgiving in the United States are typically among the slowest moviegoing periods of the year, as holiday shopping and related festivities (school pageants) take priority. There were no new wide-release films over the weekend in North America, where the No. 1 movie was once again “Ralph Breaks the Internet” (Disney), which collected about $16.1 million, for a three week domestic total of $140.9 million, according to Comscore.
Three high-profile prestige films arrived in limited release. “Mary Queen of Scots” (Focus Features), starring Saoirse Ronan in the title role, took in $200,000 at four theaters, for a solid per-theater average of $50,045. The slick “Vox Lux” (Neon), starring Natalie Portman as a pop singer, took in about $162,000 in six theaters, for a per-screen average of $27,000 that was boosted by in-person appearances by Portman.
“Ben Is Back” (Roadside Attractions) received the best reviews of the trio but stumbled out of the gate, collecting about $81,000 at four theaters ($20,200 per screen) — one of the worst debuts ever for Julia Roberts, who stars in the film as a mother of a drug-addicted son, played by Lucas Hedges.