Brie Larson as Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers in ‘The Marvels.’ COURTESY OF MARVEL STUDIOS
In the aftermath of a lackluster North American box office debut, ‘The Marvels’ posted a disappointing $47 million, marking a record low for a Marvel Studios release. This downturn intensifies analysts’ apprehensions about the escalating superhero fatigue plaguing major studios. The situation is even direr in China, where audiences have long been indifferent to America’s caped crusaders, and ‘The Marvels’ now charts a new low.
Opening to a mere $11.5 million in China, ‘The Marvels’ conceded the three-day weekend crown to the persistent local crime thriller ‘Who’s the Suspect,’ which raked in $11.7 million. Factoring in Thursday night previews, ‘The Marvels’ four-day total inches up to $11.8 million, as reported by consultancy Artisan Gateway.
MCU releases have been grappling with underperformance in China since the pandemic, but ‘The Marvels’ face plant is especially striking. Contrastingly, in 2019, Brie Larson’s debut in ‘Captain Marvel’ opened to a robust $89.3 million en route to an impressive $154 million total in China. Current projections for ‘The Marvels’ foresee a struggle to surpass $20 million.
Marvel’s other 2023 releases also failed to resonate with mainland Chinese moviegoers. Even James Gunn’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,’ a success in North America with a $359 million haul, only managed $27.8 million in China, a significant drop from the $48.5 million for ‘Guardians 2’ (2017) and $86 million for ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ (2014). ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ pulled in $39.4 million in China this February, a 67 percent decline from ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’s’ $121 million total in 2018. Pandemic-related delays and cinema closures in China significantly impacted MCU releases from 2020 to 2022, accompanied by declining social scores on the country’s top ticketing apps.
While U.S. studio franchises are on the decline in China, other action genres have fared relatively better than superhero films. Universal’s ‘Fast X’ claims Hollywood’s top film of 2023 in the country, boasting a $51.1 million opening and a $140 million total. Similarly, ‘Transformers: Rise of the Beasts’ opened with $40 million and capped at $92 million. Although earlier entries in both series earned substantially more in China, indicating a broad franchise erosion for the studios.
Notably, original films like ‘Oppenheimer’ earned $62 million, marking Christopher Nolan’s second-best performance in China, surpassed only by ‘Interstellar’ ($122 million). Warner Bros.’ ‘Barbie,’ despite a modest $8.1 million opening due to limited market awareness, climbed to a commendable $35.2 million total. This success, despite the absence of historical Barbie doll resonance in the country.
The weekend’s winner in China, ‘Who’s The Suspect’ (aka ‘Last Suspect’), opened a week ago with $23.4 million, including previews. Directed by Zhang Mo, daughter of Chinese film legend Zhang Yimou, and produced by Beijing Dino Films, the thriller features Zhang Xiaofei as a lawyer compelled to defend a death-row suspect after her own daughter is kidnapped. Maoyan, a Chinese ticketing app, projects the film to conclude its run with around $71 million (RMB 515 million).
Next on the horizon for U.S. films in Chinese theaters is Lionsgate’s prequel ‘The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes,’ slated to open simultaneously with North America on Friday.
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