Expectations were high among China's movie biz pundits for Sunday's opening of Furious 7, but no one came close to predicting the stunning drive-by looting the Universal release would commit at the country's movie theaters. Prior Chinese box office records weren't just beaten, they were throttled, smoked and thoroughly lapped by the skydriving thrillfest.
Furious 7's opening day haul of 391 million RMB, or $63.1 million, doubled the previous opening day record of 194 million RMB set by Transformers 4 back in June of 2014 (Universal and the Hollywood trades are reporting somewhat higher numbers, but I haven't yet seen these figures confirmed by official Chinese sources).
Furious 7's midnight screenings likewise trounced the prior Transformers 4 midnight record of 20 million RMB ($3.3 million) with a new benchmark of 50 million RMB ($8.1 million).
The film's opening day revenue also nearly equaled the Chinese receipts from the entire 4-week run of the franchise's previous installment, Fast and Furious 6, which revved up 413 million RMB in 2013, good enough to place 11th in China for the year.
Perhaps most impressively, the film sold more than 10 million admissions in a single day, an attendance total that has been matched only a few times by modern day releases in North America, even though China has 40 percent fewer screens and less than half the seating capacity. What this means is that Furious 7 strained the PRC's theaters to the limit by selling out a huge percentage of its 93,000 opening day screenings. And it completely squashed the competition, seizing a 92 percent share of the day’s box office revenue.
Furious 7 should easily race to a $200 million cume by around April 20th. What happens after that, and whether it can break Transformer 4's all-time Chinese box office record of nearly 2 billion RMB and $320 million, will depend on its ability to hold up against a slew of competing releases in the next few weeks. These include:
Furious 7's surprisingly powerful start raises the bar on expectations for Marvel's May 12th China release of Avengers: Age of Ultron. One of these movies or the other is likely to be the 2015 China box office champ. Up until last week the consensus for Avengers was for a $175 million to $200 million cume; now that figure looks relatively unimpressive.
A major question Furious 7's box office bonanza brings up is whether the Chinese film authorities at SARFT will deploy their market management tactics to actively crimp the returns of upcoming Hollywood releases, in order to save face for locally made Chinese films. Avengers has what appears to be a big advantage vis a vis Furious in that it faces no major competition for nearly a month after its release. Still, Marvel and Disney should hold off on making any victory laps until SARFT reveals its hand.