Zootopia’s spectacular run in China continued this weekend as Disney’s animated hit topped the box office once again, taking in $35 million over the three-day March 18-20 period. No other film in PRC history has earned that much in its third weekend.
Zootopia has now set several new records for animated releases in China. It surpassed Dreamworks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 3 as the highest grossing animated film ever to release there, and last weekend it topped the lofty RMB 1 billion ($154 million) level. By the end of the weekend its mainland tally stood at $173 million, just 14% behind its North American gross. With at least two more weeks to go in its China run—more if it receives an extension, as Kung Fu Panda did—its final gross will likely top $215 million.
Close behind Zootopia with $32.3 million for the weekend was Fox ’s surprisingly strong opening of The Revenant. The Leonardo DiCaprio-Tom Hardy period drama was considered by some China analysts to be too violent for China’s censors and too culturally remote for the PRC’s mainstream audiences. Upon its worldwide release last Christmas the film was deemed unlikely to receive a China distribution slot. But a pair of key Oscar wins, for director Alejandro González Iñárritu and for DiCaprio in the lead role, spurred a quick decision by China’s film regulators to allow ‘The Revenant’ a wide release.
This turned out to be a fruitful decision, both for China’s theater operators and for the picture’s distributor, Twentieth Century Fox. DiCaprio is a beloved celebrity in China thanks mainly to the huge success of Titanic, both in its original 1998 China release and in its 2012 3D re-release, which earned a world-beating $154 million in PRC theatrical revenue.
But prior to its China debut, the fate of The Revenant there was far from certain; only two of DiCaprio’s films—Titanic and Inception, have made significant sums in the Middle Kingdom. Most of his pictures have been too violent or salacious for PRC censors (for example, Shutter Island and The Departed), or too political (J. Edgar, Blood Diamond), and only four of his past movies have had wide releases in Chinese multiplexes. The Oscar winning film’s strong reception and excellent word of mouth (a solid 8.2 rating on movie rating site Douban) bode well for future releases of ‘serious’ fare in China.
Marketing and publicity for The Revenant benefited from DiCaprio’s visit to Beijing on Sunday, where he promoted the film while also advocating for China’s leadership in combatting global climate change.
Hollywood’s movies have roared back from a slow start in 2016 in China, thanks in part to the country’s more permissive releasing policies this year, which have allowed several day-and-date openings of American blockbusters. Batman vs. Superman opens this week, and a slew of action and family-oriented Hollywood releases will follow, which will allow the U.S. studios to make a bit of hay before the summer blackout period sets in.