Can China Save Disney's "Tomorrowland"?

After their tent-pole film Tomorrowland opened to a soft $41 million in North America over the Memorial Day weekend, Disney's executives must now be looking to China in hopes of cutting their losses on the $190 million picture.

The George Clooney-Brad Bird sci-fi /adventure arrives in Chinese theaters on Tuesday with high hopes for a ‘do-over’ after its weaker-than-expected debut in the U.S., Europe, and other territories.

China, with its burgeoning box office and hearty appetite for Hollywood fare, has become a sort of haven of second chances for films that disappoint in North America and Europe. Owing to its size and rapid growth, and its love for cinematic spectacle, China represents a new sort of hedge for Hollywood, a market that will sometimes—though certainly not always—redeem big budget flops.

Chinese audiences often go against the global tide, and there are numerous examples of China box office recoveries for films that had tepid receptions elsewhere. Some international under-performers have enjoyed surprisingly big results in China; Need for Speed, Escape Plan and Cloud Atlas, for example, ginned up China grosses that were much higher than their North American results.

Others like Pacific Rim and John Carter received much needed financial boosts that helped push them into the black (or at least a little less deep into the red) for their investors. And a few foreign pictures like Bait 3D and The Expendables 3 were embraced by audiences in China like nowhere else.

Clooney and Bird have each enjoyed prior hits in China: Clooney’s Gravity earned $71.5 million there in late 2013, and Bird’s live action directorial debut Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol hauled in $102.7 million in 2012, making it the PRC’s 4th highest grossing film of that year. Whether those prior successes translate into big bucks for the new Disney film will be up to China’s moviegoers to decide.

Tomorrowland will face a mixed bag of competitors during its mainland run. It will open against the third-week holdover Avengers: Age of Ultron and the all-but-forgotten I Frankenstein, which stumbled to a paltry $71 million worldwide gross when it originally released way back in early 2014. A week after it opens it will face the Dwayne Johnson disaster pic San Andreas, and a week after that the dino-juggernaut Jurassic World which–if the hugely successful 2013 re-release of Jurassic Park is a reliable indicator–will prove to be one of China’s biggest movies of 2015.

Tomorrowland will open on about 33 percent of the PRC's roughly 26,000 movie screens, while I Frankenstein will open on around 25 percent, squeezing Age of Ultron out of many of its playdates and down to a total of around 22 percent of the country's screens. Also not to be overlooked is the Indian comedy PK, which continues to perform well with about 9 percent of all playdates.

Ticket pre-sales, as reported by Chinese box office reporting site Gewara, don't appear to offer much hope for Tomorrowland. As of Tuesday morning in China, Tomorrowland's pre-sales were running barely ahead of I Frankenstein's, with 18,063 for the former versus 16,225 for the latter, which would seem to indicate a soft opening day of around $3 million for each film.

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