While stateside, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is currently the talk of the town, after earning $155 million domestically in its opening weekend, overseas in China the box office crown belongs to Legendary Entertainment's monster movie The Great Wall. Starring Matt Damon and one of the largest Chinese casts ever assembled, the film directed by Oscar-nominee Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers, Hero) has earned China's fourth-biggest debut of the year, only behind local Chinese hit The Mermaid, Marvel's Captain America: Civil War and Legendary's Warcraft.
China itself has been the second-largest market in the world for box office receipts since 2012, reaching a record of $6.78 billion last year, and the country is on track to have the largest market in the world by 2017 or 2018. However, less than half of that box office comes from US film titles, where only 34 foreign films are allowed each year. So now more than ever, Hollywood studios are looking for ways to cash in on that market by producing film entertainment for and with the Chinese. In fact, The Great Wall was funded by Legendary and Universal Pictures in collaboration with China Film Group and Le Vision Pictures.
According to early estimates, the fantasy film about a British mercenary who joins the Chinese to battle an army of monsters from ancient Chinese mythology premiered this weekend in China to $64.7 million, although that total is expected to rise once final numbers are available on Monday. The three-day estimate includes $7 million from 364 IMAX screens, making the movie the second-highest December IMAX opening ever. And the good news comes as collaboration between the Chinese and American film industries continue to increase, with The Great Wall believed to be their most costly co-production yet at over $150 million.
Like with Warcraft, in the U.S., though, The Great Wall isn't expected to do as well as it did in China. So far the film has been marred by criticism and controversy because of the inclusion of a white actor (Matt Damon) in a primarily Chinese story. The White Savior trope where a white and typically male protagonist saves people of color from oppression was the biggest criticism levied against the film, leaving Damon and director Zhang Yimou to defend the movie as a primarily Chinese story simply being made for a worldwide audience.
It remains to be seen what effect the controversy will have on the film's domestic box office when it premieres in February, but in China the criticism doesn't seem to have had much of an effect. Until then, however, all eyes will be on Rogue One's premiere in China early next month to see if the newest Star Wars movie will be just as popular there as it is in the U.S. and internationally, especially since one of the film's stars is popular Chinese actor and martial artist Donnie Yen.
- The Great Wall (2017) release date: Feb 17, 2017