Rogue One facing a struggle at box office in China

Ben Bussey
UK Movies Writer
Chinese action star Donnie Yen in ‘Rogue One’ (Credit: Lucasfilm)

If you were betting that ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ might be on its way to besting ‘Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens’ at the box office, this may not be the news you’re looking for.

While Gareth Edwards’ hard-edged prequel has gone down a storm with audiences in the west, it seems the much-coveted Chinese box office is a different story. Opening in China today, ticket presales point toward ‘Rogue One’ enjoying an opening weekend to the tune of RMB 40-50 million – which might not sound bad, until you learn that equates to somewhere between £4.7 – 5.8 million.

Not the kind of sums a megabudget blockbuster like ‘Rogue One’ would hope for from the third largest box office in the world. However, it seems China is one of the few territories which isn’t particularly enamoured with ‘Star Wars’ to date, as surprising as that may be given how warmly the nation tends to embrace superhero movies and sci-fi blockbusters (it’s thanks to China that ‘Pacific Rim’ is getting a sequel, after all).

As a report at China Film Insider explains, the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy never got much of a chance to reach Chinese cinemagoers on release, given they arrived not long after the passing of Communist dictator Mao Zedong in 1976, when the nation’s relationship with the west was considerably less open than today.

As such, George Lucas’s prequel trilogy didn’t have too great an impact at the Chinese box office – and nor did ‘The Force Awakens’ fare much better. China Film Insider claims audiences were “bored stiff by ‘The Force [Awakens]’s by-the-numbers plot, outright confused by its character relationships, and unimpressed with a level of swordplay that they were more used to seeing in low-budget television series.” (Their words, not ours.)

Ultimately JJ Abrams’ movie made only RMB 826 million (approx £97 million/$124 million) from the Chinese box office – a mere drop in the ocean of its final global haul of $2.068 billion (£1.68 billion), making it the third highest-grossing film of all time at present, behind James Cameron’s twin behemoths ‘Avatar’ and ‘Titanic.’

Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen in ‘Rogue One’ (Credit: Lucasfilm)

This may be something of a bitter sting for Lucasfilm and parent company Disney, given they’d clearly made efforts to appeal more to the Chinese market, notably with the casting of homegrown stars Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen in ‘Rogue One.’

Still, given ‘Rogue One’ has already made $830 million (approx £675 million) worldwide – managing to become the biggest UK box office hit of 2016, and the year’s second-highest grossing movie in the US, despite arriving less than a month before the year’s end – we certainly should hope this lack of interest in China doesn’t dampen spirits too much at Lucasfilm.

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