‘Interstellar’ Nabs Record (For This Summer) $2.9M In China

Chris Nolan’s Interstellar, starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain, grossed a massive $122 million in China during its original theatrical release.

It’s been a running joke, one arguably driven by nothing else happening in the field of global box office since March, that a potential “get people back to cinemas” reissue of big blockbusters like Inception, Titanic and Avatar would allow the latter to earn just enough, especially in China, to snatch its global box office championship belt back from Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame.

It’s obviously irrelevant, and both the Russos’ Endgame and James Cameron’s Avatar are solid sci-fi actioners that deserve their place in the record books for one reason or another. Nonetheless, China is indeed getting a handful of prior blockbusters. That includes, yes, Avatar, Titanic, Inception and Interstellar. If the initial performance of Interstellar is anything to go by, we may have a real rumble on our hands.

Chris Nolan’s Interstellar, reissued in China in IMAX and regular formats, earned $2.84 million in its first day of rerelease, including $660,000 from 461 IMAX auditoriums alone. That’s the biggest single-day gross for any movie since theaters reopened anywhere in the world, just above the $2.4 million that Train to Busan Presents Peninsula earned on its first day in South Korea two weeks ago. So I guess, in a skewed way, Chris Nolan really is the guy welcoming the world back to the movies.

The 2014/2015 sci-fi blockbuster earned $677 million worldwide in its initial run, including $188 million domestic and a whopping $122 million in China alone. That was nearly double the $68 million gross of Inception four years prior and bigger than any comic book superhero movie at the time. It was also a key sign that Nolan’s fandom in China was more about his original/high-concept blockbusters blockbusters than his Dark Knight trilogy.

Batman Begins earned $1 million in 2005, The Dark Knight didn’t play in China (allegedly due to the subplot involving a Chinese businessman working in cahoots with Gotham’s mob families) while The Dark Knight Rises earned $53 million in 2012, or just over the eventual $51 million gross of Dunkirk in 2017. Not only was Interstellar’s boffo run a key to making the $165 million release genuinely profitable, it is yet another example debunking conventional wisdom about what Chinese moviegoers like to see at the movies.

Yes, they enjoyed the Transformers movies as much as we did, but they also flocked to explicitly American entertainments like Green Book and Ready Player One. They initially showed up in the first day or two for Warcraft and Terminator: Genisys, but they didn’t like those movies anymore than we did. Terminator: Genisys earned $113 million from a $26 million opening day, a day that came in mid-August after months of a “no Hollywood movies” blackout. They too avoided Terminator: Dark Fate.

Ditto Warcraft, which was based on an exceedingly popular video game which earned $90 million in its first two days. However, the critically-panned “prequel for the sequel” fantasy earned $220 million in China, a huge sum but even more frontloaded than it was in North America ($47 million from a $24 million debut). In essence, all due respect, it was their Batman v Superman (which earned $330 million domestic from a $166 million debut months earlier), a much-anticipated movie based on beloved source material that sank like a stone once audiences saw it.

While American audiences have mostly stopped showing up for star-driven originals and trapped themselves in an endless cycle of reboots and relaunches of once-successful franchises, China has flocked to home-grown originals or “new-to-cinema” adaptations like The Mermaid, The Wandering Earth, Wolf Warrior, Operation Red Sea, Detective Chinatown and Monster Hunt. Chinese moviegoers aren’t as easy to fool as some folks in the media and in the entertainment industry like to believe.

While I still have issues with Nolan’s outer-space adventure (I rewatched it just two weeks ago), it requires viewer comprehension, an attention span and at least some understanding of various scientific principles. Fun fact: The only Transformers movie saved” by China was the female-led Bumblebee, which earned $171 million of its $468 million cume in China. Americans talk a good game about embracing inclusive entertainments, but China shows up for Alita, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Coco, Bumblebee, Tomb Raider, xXx: Return of Xander Cage and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.

The other big factor concerning Interstellar’s strong opening day is that it debunks the notion that movies over two hours A) can’t play in China and B) can’t succeed in China. It was always intended as, like parlay in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, more of a suggestion or a guideline than a strict code. And yes, if audiences are showing up (relatively speaking) to see Chris Nolan’s 169-minute Interstellar, that’s very good news for Chris Nolan’s 150-minute Tenet when the film does arrive in Chinese theaters.  

It’s also encouraging for James Cameron’s Avatar, which revolutionized the Chinese movie industry when it earned a record $203 million in 2010. It played in 10% of the theaters that were available in 2019 for Avengers: Endgame’s stunning $614 million (+71% from Avengers: Infinity War) Chinese theatrical run last summer. Avatar is under $10 million away from Avengers: Endgame’s $2.8 billion global total. If this $2 million opening day for Interstellar is any indication, Endgame’s reign at the top may be unexpectedly brief.

Now that Disney

DIS
owns Fox (or 20th Century Pictures), it’s another “Disney wins” scenario as they’ll again be able to promote Avatar 2 as “the sequel to the biggest-grossing movie of all time.” This could turn into the Rocky II of box office showdowns.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/scottmendelson/2020/08/02/china-box-office-chris-nolan-interstellar-starring-matthew-mcconaughey-anne-hathaway-jessica-chastain-opens-near-3-million/