Eyeing global domination, 'Star Wars' opens big in China

Eyeing global domination, 'Star Wars' opens big in China
PHOTO: AFP

Beijing - "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" has achieved the third best opening-day performance in China's cinema history by raking in over US$30 million (S$43 million), according to Chinese box office tracking services Sunday.

Opening three weeks after it took the United States by storm, the seventh instalment of the franchise took in around 208.89 million yuan (S$45.71 million) in opening-day sales Saturday, according to Chinese film data company EntGroup - accounting for over 70 percent of all tickets sold that day.

The film ranked third behind the Chinese comedy "Lost in Hong Kong" and "Fast and Furious 7", which earned US$390 million at the box office in China. "Star Wars" must top that to become the highest-grossing Hollywood film in the country.

"The Force Awakens" had the country's fourth highest turnout for opening-day midnight screenings, with sales of US$2.4 million placing it behind "Furious 7," "Avengers: Age of Ultron" and "Transformers: Age of Extinction".

Directed by J.J. Abrams, it has been toppling records ever since hitting the big screen.

Disney said it surpassed James Cameron's Oscar-winning "Avatar", which held a record of US$760.5 million, to become the top-grossing film of all time in North America on Wednesday.

But the prize Disney is really chasing is biggest global film.

That crown is currently held by "Avatar" with US$2.79 billion in ticket sales.

Experts say the space saga's global aspirations depend in part on its release in the huge Chinese market - the world's second largest - which could help give it a further push to light speed.

But the franchise faces a unique challenge in China, where most people have no nostalgic connection to the original series.

When "Star Episode IV: A New Hope" hit screens in 1977, the country was just emerging from its turbulent Cultural Revolution, with Western movies banned. The first trilogy passed largely unseen.

The later prequels received screenings but at a time when there were fewer cinemas.

"Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" took in US$380 million in the US box office in 2005, but made only US$9.1 million that year in China.

Disney tried to generate a buzz for the new movie with an aggressive mainland marketing campaign.

It placed 500 Stormtrooper figures on the Great Wall and enlisted heartthrob pop star Lu Han, known as China's Justin Bieber, to sing about how he was "feeling the force" in a promotional music video overlaid with scenes from the film.

Saturday's box office figures fell slightly short of Disney's early estimates of US$33 million - which would have made the debut the highest Disney opening day in China.

Nevertheless, "the opening of the new Star War film in China might become a big event and thus bring in audiences," especially since an annual quota restricts the number of foreign films in the domestic market, said New York-based China media expert Ying Zhu.

Disney, which bought Lucasfilm from "Star Wars" creator George Lucas for US$4 billion in 2012, is planning two more films in the series as well as a stand-alone spinoff.

Hong Kong martial arts star Donnie Yen and Chinese Jiang Wen were cast in the spinoff "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story", the next to come out from the franchise, in an attempt to appeal to mainland audiences.

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