Avengers: Age of Ultron pulled off a major coup last week when it surpassed Furious 7 to become North America's top grossing film of 2015.
It also joined the Hollywood billion dollar movie club, leaping to 8th place on the list of the world’s all-time highest grossing films, with more than $1.1 billion in global box office receipts. The Joss Whedon directed superhero blockbuster accomplished this impressive feat just 3 weeks into its international run, and just over two weeks after its May 1st U.S. release.
The next target for the Disney/Marvel blockbuster is the $1.5 billion global gross that Furious 7 has racked up on its way to becoming this year's worldwide box office champ so far. Whether Age of Ultron beats this number to become the number one global hit of the year—and at least the fourth highest grossing film of all time behind Avatar, Titanic and the first Avengers—will ultimately be decided by one territory: the People's Republic of China.
North American moviegoers haven't embraced Age of Ultron nearly as enthusiastically as they did the first Avengers film, which snared $623 million in box office receipts in 2012, the third highest domestic tally of all time. At its current pace the Avengers sequel will wind up about $200 million short of that total.
So Age of Ultron will need to make up ground in other territories in order to catch up with Furious 7. South Korea played its part by contributing $73 million, 50% more than it contributed to the first Avengers film. Japan could also make a big difference in closing the gap when it rolls out the film in July. But China will truly play the role of kingmaker, as it has with so many Hollywood films in the past several years.
China has certainly shown lots of love to Age of Ultron, depositing $212 million so far into the film's coffers, a far greater total than the $91 million it showered on the previous Avengers film in 2012. But it's looking increasingly unlikely that the Middle Kingdom grosses will pack quite enough punch to allow Age of Ultron to outpace Furious 7 globally. Between the two films, China will clearly and decisively give Furious the edge.
So barring a major upside surprise from Japan, Age of Ultron will probably finish its global run at around $1.4 billion.
Age of Ultron lost the box office race to Furious in China for several reasons, perhaps most importantly due to the following:
1. The Avengers film had a 3D only release, as opposed to the 3D and 2D release of Furious 7. Lower ticket prices and more screenings helped Furious 7 to pull ahead.
2. Age of Ultron's confusing subtitles on Chinese release prints may have hurt the film. According to a report in The Guardian, a line in which Chris Evans's Captain America says: “You get hurt, hurt'em back. You get killed … walk it off,” was translated in the Chinese subtitles as:“Run fast if someone tries to kill you.” In another line the phrase “son of a bitch” becomes “my old, familiar partner.” And Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man tells his comrades: ‘We may not make it out of this,” but the line is translated as: “Let's back off now.”
3. Poor word of mouth among the general Chinese audience may have also stunted Age of Ultron's grosses. On one widely used movie rating app the film received a modest 70% approval figure, versus more than 85 percent for Furious 7 and 92 percent for Chappie.
Despite these challenges, Age of Ultron has now become China's third highest grossing film ever, and Marvel can rest assured that after several years of laying the groundwork, its brand is among the most reliably lucrative names in mainland Chinese cinema.