Last week, I published a rough-looking forecast for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story's Chinese premiere. In that report, I pointed to two key issues affecting the predictably gloomy outlook for the film in China. One had to do with the history of Star Wars in the country, and the other had to do with something I affectionately referred to as Star Wars: Attack of The Smog. Now that we're a few days removed from the film's opening weekend in China, we can have a better look at how that all panned out and we can also get some insight from an industry analyst about why Star Wars fares the way it does there.
So, how did Rogue One: A Star Wars Story end up doing? The film's opening weekend in China scored a $31 million haul. While that may not sound particularly lousy, let me throw some other numbers at you:
- That doesn't even crack the top 85 openings in China
- Films like Terminator: Genisys ($58M), Now You See Me 2 ($42M), and San Andreas ($52M) all destroyed it
- The Chinese market is so huge they're capable of giving films like Furious 7 and Avengers: Age of Ultron openings like $182 million and $156 million, respectively
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened to a so-so $52 million despite an insane amount of hype and China-specific marketing stunts by Disney/Lucasfilm
- Rogue One featured not one, but two recognizable Chinese stars in prominent roles: Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen
- Rogue One only made $8,000 better than the unknown commodity Guardians of The Galaxy did, for a virtual tie
What gives? Why can't Chinese audiences get as amped for Star Wars as the rest of us can? Jonathan Papish, an industry analyst who works for China Film Insider, thinks he has the answer:
"It’s still a case of Star Wars being unable to break out with general Chinese audiences unfamiliar with the characters and overall story despite Disney’s best efforts to bring them in. It’s polarizing Chinese audiences. Those who grew up with the prequel trilogy or maybe caught the original trilogy somehow are giving the film some face, but the newer generation of moviegoers — those that really help a film break out at the box office — just don’t care about these stories.”
But what about the fact that this was the first Star Wars film to feature Chinese stars in leading roles? Shouldn't that have helped it connect for them? Part of the problem could be that they weren't in it enough, killing any word-of-mouth their inclusion would generate as well as future prospects for the series there, says Papish:
"The small number of Donnie Yen or Jiang Wen fans who turned out to see their faces were completely confused or bored with the rest of the story, which ultimately will turn them off from future ‘Star Wars’ installments."
Whatever the case, it's still pretty startling to see Star Wars films- which are so huge around the world (The Force Awakens made over $1 billion overseas alone!)- get such a cold shoulder from a nation with as much spending power as China.
I'll throw one last number at you:
Captain America: Civil War, which was released in China with that title and without any Chinese stars made almost exactly three times as much as Rogue One did in its opening weekend there.
Should Lucasfilm/Disney just give up trying to get that market into Star Wars? Should they go the route of the Original Trilogy and just not release their films there anymore? What do you think?