China Box Office: Why ‘Bloodshot,’ ‘Dolittle’ And ‘1917’ Are Going First

Bloodshot (Vin Diesel) in Columbia Pictures’ BLOODSHOT.
A Vin Diesel flop, a Robert Downey Jr. bomb and an Oscar-winning World War I blockbuster will help jolt China’s theatrical industry back to life.
Vin Diesel’s Bloodshot was one of three movies that opened on March 13, which turned out to be the last weekend for major Hollywood theatrical releases before everything closed down domestically. As such, there are large numbers of moviegoers, especially among the press/media demographics who saw the film on a Tuesday-before-opening press screening, for whom Bloodshot was the last movie they saw in theaters. I count myself among them, as I saw Mulan that Monday at the big LA premiere and then Bloodshot the next evening. I was looking forward to A Quiet Place part II in a few days when everything came to a halt. Anyway, the Valiant comic book adaptation has now gone from “last movie in America” to “first movie in China.”
The first three movies Hollywood movies set to play in China are, starting July 24, Bloodshot, Robert Downey Jr.’s Dolittle and Sam Mendes’ blockbuster World War I thriller 1917. They make sense as comeback flicks. Downey Jr.’s last movie, Avengers: Endgame, earned a stunning $620 million in China alone, a 74% boost from Avengers: Endgame ($359 million) which allowed the Russo Bros-directed flick to pass Avatar as the biggest global grosser of all time. While it’s no more likely that Chinese audiences will flock to Dolittle than did North American moviegoers, Universal’s already infamous talking animal fantasy has little to lose as it’s already a big whiff, earning just $225 million worldwide on a $175 million budget. Ditto Sony’s Vin Diesel comic book flick.
Bloodshot, based on a Valiant comic book about a soldier who dies and gets brought back with enhanced abilities, bombed domestically even before the coronavirus-closures began. Sure, it never had a chance to leg out, but the $42 million, PG-13 Sony flick was tracking for a $10 million opening and ended up with $9.8 million, so the pandemic didn’t really hurt the film at least in the first three days. The catch is that the last three Fast & Furious movies (including the Diesel-free Hobbs & Shaw) have been massive successes in China, with the aforementioned spin-off earning $200 million of its $759 million cume in China while The Fate of the Furious and Furious 7 both earned around $392 million over there.

(from left) Duck Dab-Dab (Octavia Spencer), polar bear Yoshi (John Cena), parrot Polynesia (Emma … [+] Thompson), Dr. John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.), ostrich Plimpton (Kumail Nanjiani), Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) and gorilla Chee-Chee (Rami Malek) in “Dolittle,” directed by Stephen Gaghan.
Among Hollywood imports, they are behind only to Avengers Endgame’s aforementioned gross. While audiences showed up for Furious 7 doesn’t mean they will show up for Bloodshot, the math may be different in China. xXx: Return of Xander Cage earned just $44 million domestic from a $19 million debut in January of 2017, but the D.J. Caruso-directed action sequel earned $164 million in China, which singlehandedly pushed the $85 million-budgeted flick to $385 million global. It was the first time a “big” movie had bombed in North America and performed merely okay everywhere else only to become a smash purely because of China. Ditto Resident Evil: The Final Chapter which earned $159 million of its $312 million cume in China alone over the same quarter.

That’s, slight digression, why Sony moved Paul W.S. Anderson’s video game flick Monster Hunter from this Labor Day to April 23, 2021. The circumstances concerning China’s slow region-by-region theatrical reopening (50% of showtimes, 30% capacity, no concessions, etc.) complicates matters, Bloodshot cost half of what xXx III. At just $42 million, and even The Last Witch Hunter earned just $27 million in China in late 2015. The notion of Bloodshot going from zero to hero in China just because Xander Cage did it is a stretch at best, but that the film is among the first out of the gate means that somebody thinks it’s possible. As for 1917, look to Dunkirk and Green Book.

George MacKay in Sam Mendes’ ‘1917’
Universal and DreamWorks
The Sam Mendes thriller may have lost Best Picture to Parasite, but the $90 million WWI flick, concerning two soldiers racing across enemy lines to deliver game-changing intelligence, was a genuine blockbuster. It earned $159 million domestic and $374 million worldwide. That made it one of the biggest modern war movies ever, behind (offhand) Saving Private Ryan, Pearl Harbor, Dunkirk, American Sniper and, uh, Wonder Woman. Dunkirk earned $51 million in China (from a $29 million debut, so a bit frontloaded). 1917 is already a smash, so anything it earns in China is entirely gravy. Green Book also earned a whopping $71 million in China (out of $327 million global), there’s clearly a demand for “foreign” films that offer a little bit of European history in a crowd-pleasing package.
To be fair, these openings could all amount to mere trivia, earning about as much in China as the likes of Ghostbusters and The Empire Strikes Back have earned in North American theaters this summer. But since these films have been available in post-theatrical (DVD, VOD, etc.) for months, it’ll be an interesting test case as to whether overseas piracy still plays a role for Hollywood imports in China. Nonetheless, until we start seeing some of the delayed Chinese blockbusters (like Detective Chinatown 3 and The Rescue) or a Chinese release for Sonic the Hedgehog, there’s nothing on the horizon that can displace Bad Boys For Life ($419 million with a Chinese playday still to come) as the year’s biggest global grosser.

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