While we won’t get the full four-day estimates for the Memorial Day holiday weekend until tomorrow, it has already essentially been confirmed that Solo: A Star Wars Story won’t be gunning for the holiday weekend box office record as previously believed. Now we have word that Solo is also severely underperforming in the second largest box office market in the world, China, where it debuted in third place with a paltry $10.1 million. Solo was beaten by local Chinese hit How Long Will I Love U, which took in $25 million in its second frame in the Middle Kingdom, with Avengers: Infinity War taking in $18 million for second place in its third weekend.
Star Wars movies have typically underperformed in China, for largely unknown reasons, and they even tried to minimize Solo being a Star Wars movie, by changing the title from Solo: A Star Wars Story to Ranger Solo. This opening weekend marks the latest in a downward spiral for Star Wars movies in China, since Disney acquired the franchise. The 2015 blockbuster Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened to a decent $52.4 million in China in early 2016, en route to a Middle Kingdom total of $124.1 million. 2016’s Rogue One opened to just over $30 million with a $69.4 million Chinese total, while last year’s The Last Jedi continued the slide with a $28.1 million opening and $42.5 million total in China.
Chinese audiences have often been quite “cold” on sci-fi movies in general, but Solo‘s debut in the Middle Kingdom is even lower than flops such as Paramount’s Ghost in the Shell ($21 million) and Passengers ($14.8 million). Still, Star Wars movies don’t depend on big international grosses like other tentpole franchises, with the last three movies in the franchise earning 55% or less of their worldwide totals from overseas markets. Still, with China posting immense growth from year to year, and the Middle Kingdom actually poised to overtake North America as the largest box office market in the world, within the next few years, Disney may have to take a new approach to win back the Chinese audience with this franchise.
As of now, there are three Chinese films in the worldwide top 10, despite those films earning less than $5 million in North America combined. Behind Avengers: Infinity War ($1.9 billion) and Black Panther ($1.3 billion) is the Chinese hit Operation Red Sea, which took in $579.2 million worldwide in third place, with just $1.5 million coming from North America. In fifth place, behind Ready Player One ($577 million) is Detective Chinatown 2, which has taken in $544.1 million worldwide, just $2 million from the domestic box office. Monster Hunt 2 rounds out the Chinese trifecta in ninth place worldwide with $361.7 million, with $706,000 from North America.
How Disney will solve its Star Wars problem with Chinese audiences remains to be seen, and it didn’t even help Rogue One that the movie featured two major Chinese movie stars in the cast, Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang. This also comes as Disney recently announced they are moving forward with a new Star Wars spin-off focusing on the iconic bounty hunter Boba Fett, with The Hollywood Reporter joking that perhaps Boba Fett may have been played by Chinese icon Jackie Chan all along.