2020’s Only Box Office Blockbusters Are Finally Opening In China

Ben Schwartz in ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ and Martin Lawrence and Will Smith in ‘Bad Boys For Life’
Paramount and Sony
Sonic the Hedgehog will open in China on July 31 while Bad Boys For Life will open on August 14.
The release calendar puked all over the carpet yesterday, with Disney
pulling Mulan indefinitely and pushing Avatar 2 to December 2022 and thus Star Wars to December 2023. Sony swooped in and dropped Spider-Man 3 (or whatever it’ll eventually be called) into the December 18, 2021 date, which makes sense as A) Spider-Man movies have done well via holiday openings and B) the MCU Spider-Man flick is technically a Sony movie and (partially) a Disney flick. Oh, and Paramount
may sell Michael B. Jordan’s Without Remorse to Amazon
as it moved A Quiet Place part II to April 23, 2021 and Top Gun: Maverick to July 2, 2021.
All of those changes may deserve their own post, but it’s not all doom and gloom, as Paramount dated Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for April 8, 2022. Meanwhile, Chinese theaters are re-opening, to the point that both of this years only outright blockbusters (Sonic the Hedgehog and Bad Boys for Life) are getting Chinese release dates. And as more and more 2020 biggies become 2021 biggies, it’s increasingly likely that Bad Boys for Life ($419 million global thus far) and Sonic the Hedgehog ($306 million) will end the year as the biggest Hollywood films of 2020. The question is by how much China will boost their respective global totals.
Before we get into this, two big caveats: First, Chinese theaters are slowly re-opening with all of the expected social distancing/limited capacity/limited showtimes rules currently in effect. Second, both the $82 million-budgeted Ben Schwartz/James Marsden/Jim Carrey video game adaption and the $90 million Will Smith/Martin Lawrence actioner are already huge hits for Paramount and Sony, so whatever they earn in China is essentially gravy. But if they have something approximating a “normal” theatrical run in China, both could break a record or two or push themselves further up the line in various arbitrary lists. So grab a calculator, open up some Box Office Mojo and The Numbers tabs and dive in.
With $146 million domestic, Sonic the Hedgehog is already the biggest-grossing video game movie of all time in unadjusted domestic grosses. Had theaters not closed in March, it likely would have topped $156 million and thus surpassed Mortal Kombat ($70 million in 1995) and Pokémon: The First Movie ($85 million in 1999) on the adjusted-for-inflation video game movie list, putting it behind only Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider ($131 million in 2001). The film’s $306 million global cume put it right between Resident Evil: Afterlife ($300 million in 2010) and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter ($312 million in 2017, including $159 million in China alone) on the global video game movie list.
Should Sonic perform anywhere near “good” for a video game movie when it opens on July 31, we’re talking somewhere between Alicia Vikander’s Tomb Raider ($74 million in 2018) and Detective Pokémon ($93 million in 2019). That would catapult it past Resident Evil 6, Prince of Persia ($330 million in 2010) and The Angry Birds Movie ($352 million in 2016). An over/under $400 million global cume would put it behind only Rampage ($431 million in 2018, including $156 million in China), Detective Pokémon ($433 million) and Warcraft ($439 million in 2016, including $225.5 million in China). Numbers closer to Resident Evil: The Final Chapter or Rampage would take it to the top of the global video game list, but that’s probably not happening.

With $204 million domestic, Bad Boys for Life is the biggest-grossing movie (sans inflation) ever to open in January. In terms of R-rated action movies, it’s behind only Terminator 2 ($206 million in 1991), 300 ($210 million in 2007), Saving Private Ryan ($217 million in 1998), Logan ($226 million in 2017), Beverly Hills Cop ($234 million in 1984), The Matrix Reloaded ($281 million in 2003), American Sniper ($350 million in 2015) and the Deadpool flicks ($363 million in 2016 and $324 million in 2018). None of that accounts for inflation-adjusted totals of the likes of Air Force One ($171 million in 1997), Die Hard 2 ($117 million in 1990) or Rambo: First Blood part II ($150 million in 1985), but I digress.
Its global total of $419 million is currently behind, in terms of R-rated actioners, behind only Django Unchained ($425 million in 2012), The Matrix Revolutions ($427 million in 2003), Terminator 3 ($433 million in 2003), The Last Samurai ($455 million in 2003), 300 ($456 million in 2007), Lucy ($456 million in 2014), Gladiator ($460.5 million in 2000), The Matrix ($465 million in 1999), Saving Private Ryan ($482 million in 1998), Troy ($497 million in 2003), Terminator 2 ($521 million in 1991), The Revenant ($533 million in 2015), Detective Chinatown 2 ($544 million in 2018), American Sniper ($547 million in 2015), Logan ($619 million in 2017), The Matrix Reloaded ($742 million in 2003), the Deadpool movies ($783 million in 2016 and $785 million in 2018) and China’s unrated but ultraviolent Wolf Warrior 2 ($870 million in 2017).
If you argue that I’m being generous with my “R-rated actioners” category, that’s intentional (Scarlett Johansson’s Lucy was certainly sold as an action movie), and it should be noted that Deadpool 2 “only” earned $735 million before that PG-13 Once Upon a Deadpool cut opened in late 2018. For what it’s worth, if you remove comic book adaptations, sword-and-sandal movies, war flicks and sci-fi fantasies, you’re left with, well, Bad Boys For Life, The Revenant, Detective Chinatown 2 and Wolf Warrior 2. Regardless, if Bad Boys for Life gets anywhere near $500 million worldwide, it’ll become the tenth-biggest R-rated action movie in raw global grosses.  
I didn’t think back in February that I’d still be writing about Bad Boys for Life and Sonic the Hedgehog in late July. I certainly didn’t think that they’d still be the only two 2020 releases actually worth discussing in terms of being overwhelmingly successful. While it’s possible that a healthier Chinese marketplace will allow a few delayed Chinese blockbusters (like Detective Chinatown 3 and The Rescue, which were supposed to open over New Year’s back in January/February) to leapfrog past Bad Boys 3 and Sonic, there are frighteningly few “still set for 2020” Hollywood releases (Wonder Woman 1984, Black Widow, No Time to Die and Soul) that could realistically expect to top $425 million worldwide.
This all being said, yesterday’s total Chinese box office was just $2.7 million, with Dolittle earning $1 million and Bloodshot placing second as the first Hollywood movies to open since the shutdown. It’s entirely possible that Sonic and Bad Boys 3 are essentially sacrificial lambs to get Chinese audiences acclimated to theatrical moviegoing again before releasing the delayed Chinese blockbusters. The really bizarre scenario would be Sonic the Hedgehog earning good-to-great business in China while Bad Boys For Life bombs, thus allowing Sonic to race past Bad Boys for Life’s $419 million-plus global cume and take the title. Considering how insane this year has already been, that would barely surprise me.

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