“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” soared to a record-breaking $53 million in its debut in China this weekend, the biggest Saturday-Sunday box office opening ever in that country.
In the process, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” passed “Jurassic World” to become the No. 3 movie on the all-time worldwide box office list behind only “Avatar” and “Titanic” with $1.73 billion.
Disney’s blockbuster took in $104 million from overseas markets this weekend and, with another $41 million from North America, delivered a whopping $146 million in its fourth weekend of worldwide release.
“The Force Awakens” got a huge boost in China from IMAX, which delivered its best-ever Saturday with $4.3 million and best two-day opening with $8.1 million. Overall, IMAX theaters have accounted for a massive $179 million of the movie’s haul in 26 days.
Disney has a lot at stake. China is the No. 2 movie market in the world and a strong performance there will be crucial if “The Force Awakens” is to pass the $2.8 billion that 2009’s “Avatar” took in to become the all-time top-grossing movie worldwide. The big launch also should provide momentum for Shanghai Disneyland Park, which opens later this year.
The Chinese have not proved to be huge “Star Wars” fans. They had seen only the last three releases in the series, prequels that didn’t resonate at the box office there: 1999’s “The Phantom Menace ($5 million), 2002’s “Attack of the Clones” ($7.2 million) and 2005’s “Revenge of the Sith” ($11.7 million).
“We were starting from close to scratch in China, probably more so than anywhere else in the world,” Dave Hollis, Disney’s head of distribution, told TheWrap on Sunday. “This result speaks to the incredible and broad appeal of this film, and also to the extraordinary job our marketing team did to turn this into a cultural event in that country, which is why we see ourselves with the grosses that we do.”
The significance of the huge China launch is multiplied by the fact that there are two more movies in the new “Star Wars” trilogy and two spinoffs on the way over the next few years.
“This sets those up for real success in China,” Hollis said.
Disney cranked up a major promo campaign behind “The Force Awakens” that included placing 500 Storm Troopers on the Great Wall in October, cutting a deal with Chinese online titan Tencent to make all the “Star Wars” films available for streaming and enlisting young pop star Lu Han — the “Chinese Justin Bieber” — as a spokesman.