Exceptionally strong word of mouth and unusually buoyant March cinema attendance have boosted Disney’s Zootopia to a record-breaking opening weekend in China. The talking animal toon, which unleashed day-and-date with its North American release on Friday, March 4th, rustled up $23.7 million in the PRC, second among animated films only to Kung Fu Panda 3’s $52 million January debut.
Driven by sky-high audience ratings of 9.4 on review sites like Douban, Maoyan and Gewara, Zootopia (re-titled 疯狂动物城, or “Crazy Animal City”) scored the highest opening weekend for a non-sequel animated film in China’s movie history. With its scorching box office momentum picking up over the weekend, the film should easily top $100 million at Chinese multiplexes.
Image credit: Walt Disney Company
Although its first-weekend numbers are less than half those of Kung Fu Panda 3, Zootopia has several advantages that just might enable the Disney film to overtake the new animation record of $151 million set by its Dreamworks rival.
For one thing, the late January release timing of Kung Fu Panda 3 gave it just 10 days to earn most of its revenue before it hit a wall of Chinese New Year’s competition. Despite an excellent 8.0 Douban rating and strong want-to-see factor, the film couldn’t overcome the loss of most of its screens to The Mermaid and other blockbusters on February 8th, and managed to add just $46 million to its total in the following month.
Zootopia, on the other hand, will enjoy at least 3 weeks of open grazing before it meets meaningful foreign competition in the form of Batman vs. Superman on March 25th. And it will have 3 additional weeks—assuming it receives authorization to continue its run past the standard 30 days—before Disney’s own Jungle Book challenges its dominance over the family market.
Zootopia opened with a modest $3.4 million on 14% of China’s screens on Friday the 4th, and then exploded to $9.4 million on Saturday the 5th and $11 million on Sunday the 6th. Exhibitors rewarded this exceptionally powerful launch pattern by turning over more of their screens to the burgeoning hit toon. Its screen count nearly doubled by Tuesday to encompass 25% of all of the country’s cinema halls.
Image credit: Pacific Bridge Pictures
Animation has been a rare bright spot in an otherwise bleak season for Hollywood. The American studios’ share of PRC ticket revenues hit an all-time low of 17% in the first two months of the year, down from 25% in 2014 and 2015. Hollywood’s share will rebound as more American imports hit theaters in March and April, but the overall trajectory continues to spiral downward, and Hollywood could see its share dwindle to less than 30% this year. It’s a far cry from the days just a few years ago when the studios could bank on a 50% slice of the Chinese box office pie.