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Why ‘Warcraft’ Can Bomb in US This Weekend and Still Be a Blockbuster

Video-game movie smashes ”Avengers: Age of Ultron“ opening record in China

Legendary and Universal Pictures’ “Warcraft” may bomb this weekend in North America, but it’s doing bang-up business overseas.

The video-game movie broke records as it opened Wednesday in China — most notably beating the first-day, non-weekend box office mark held by Disney-Marvel’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” by nearly $20 million.

As of 10 p.m. local time in Beijing, the movie brought in RMB 302 million (U.S. $46 million). “Age of Ultron” made RMB 185.9 million (U.S. $28.3 million) when it opened in the country.

The studio expects that record-setting gap to increase as midnight approaches.

Directed by Duncan Jones (the late David Bowie‘s son), the film beat IMAX records, too. “Warcraft” made RMB 35 million (U.S. $5.33 million) from the specialty screens, beating the previous record of RMB 31 million (U.S. $4.7 million) set by Universal’s “Furious 7.”

In China, “Warcraft” also broke the IMAX midnight show record (RMB 9.03 million / U.S. $13.8 million) and its pre-sale record (RMB 53.8 million / USD $8.2 million).

Meanwhile, the big-budget video game adaptation is expected to tank at the domestic box office as it opens this weekend.

“Warcraft” was made for a whopping $160 million, not counting marketing costs, and is expected to debut to roughly $25 million in North America, both analysts and Universal predict.

Sizing up to be much more of an international play, the movie had already amassed $75 million abroad in 25 markets before opening in China, where it had been tracking strongly in advance of its holiday opening.

“We can’t just look at it from a North America perspective,” said comScore senior analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “It’s a fairly new phenomenon that the international component is offsetting negativity from an underwhelming North American debut,” he said, citing “Transformers: Age of Extinction” as a prime example.

Unlike the fate predicted for “Warcraft,” the 2014 Paramount blockbuster sequel directed by Michael Bay was considered a success domestically. Still, it made nearly 80 percent of its $1.1 billion from international markets.

Typically, if a movie bombs domestically, it is considered a failure. But examples of disproportionately strong international grosses are multiplying.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” which had a lackluster North American debut at $35.3 million last weekend, needs to replicate the success the original had overseas.

The previous TMNT reboot barely recouped its production budget on $191.2 million in domestic grosses. Profits from the film depended more on the $302.1 million the movie made abroad.

“All eyes have always been on the North American debut,” said Dergarabedian. “But that’s becoming a misconception.”

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