Despite being slotted by China's film authorities into a not-so-super Tuesday on its opening day, Disney's superhero sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron blasted through the competition to notch the PRC's second best opening week ever with a $156 million 5-day debut in the week ending Sunday, May 17th.
The film also scored the 2nd best single day China gross in history with $38 million on Saturday—second only to Furious 7's massive $64 million opening day in April—and also the country's 3rd best weekend ever with $85 million over the three-day frame. The two biggest weekends were notched by Transformers: Age of Extinction with $101 million in July of 2014, and Furious 7 with $93 million.
Owing to Disney's laudable work in building the appeal of the Marvel universe—and not incidentally, to the PRC cinema industry's enormous growth—Age of Ultron could as much as triple the $91 million total that the first Avengers film tallied in China in its 2012 run.
It may seem hard to believe now, but it was only three short years ago that many thought superhero movies would never catch on in China, because the country until recently had little exposure to American comic books and superhero IP. In a culture that favors collective victories over individual achievement, it was thought that superhero stories simply wouldn't translate for the Chinese audience.
Of course that bit of conventional wisdom had its lights punched out when Marvel's The Avengers, Warner Bros' The Dark Knight Rises and Sony's The Amazing Spider-Man all landed among the top 15 grossing films in China in 2012. And then in 2013 Paramount/Marvel/DMG's Iron Man 3 permanently buried this misconception when it rocketed to second place among all releases in China with a $121 million box office gross.
Last week was not a good one to be a non-Marvel film at Chinese cinemas. In the Avengers' wake the four other new releases managed a paltry $2.71 million between them, and holdovers Chappie, You Are My Sunshine, The Left Ear and others mustered barely $8 million more. In total, Avengers grabbed over 93 percent of mainland ticket revenue, the most dominant single-week performance in memory.
In a hopeful bit of counter-programming, China's Central Newsreel and Documentary Film Studio last week rolled out its own superhero movie of sorts, the documentary title Mr. Deng Goes to Washington. The film deals with Chinese communist revolutionary and statesman Deng Xiaoping and his 9-day visit in 1979 to the U.S., a diplomatic mission that precipitated the start of the 30-year economic miracle that has enabled China to become the modern global power that it is.
So how did superhero Chairman Deng fare against Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America and the rest of the Marvel gang in tights? Suffice it to say that the PRC's young moviegoers weren't quite as keen on seeing a communist hero's tale as their party elders might have wished. 9,452 tickets were sold for Deng last week versus nearly 1.1 million for Avengers.