Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 debuted to $28 million in China over the weekend, a starting haul that would have been considered disappointing prior to the pandemic, but which many box office analysts would find promising in the current climate.
The James Gunn-directed sequel gave Hollywood its biggest China opening of 2023, thus far, after several other studio tentpoles stumbled (among them: The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Ant-Man 3 and Shazam! 2). The only recent U.S. film to earn more than Guardians 3 — coming close to pre-pandemic earnings potential — was Avatar: The Way of Water, with an opening of $57.1 million and total of $246 million late last year. Ticketing app Maoyan projects Guardians 3 to finish its run with $72 million, down from a $86.3 million total for the original Guardians movie in 2014, and $101 million for Guardians 2 in 2017. Guardians 3 opened particularly well on Imax, brining in $5.6 million, or 19 percent of its China first-weekend total, on the brand’s giant screens.
After a plunge in imported releases in 2022, Hollywood product has begun returning to Chinese screens at a regular clip. Release approvals are coming four to six weeks in advance, as per pre-pandemic norms, and date-and-date release slots with North America have become typical again — both a big boost to marketing campaigns.
But enthusiasm for American movies among the Chinese public appears to have waned during the long pandemic dry spell — and perhaps also thanks to a steady drumbeat of negative local press over Washington and Beijing’s spiraling diplomatic relations. Two Japanese anime titles have far surpassed any Hollywood tentpole in China ticket sales this year — Makoto Shinkai’s Suzume with $115 million and Toei Animation’s The First Slam Dunk with $90 million — an outcome unthinkable during most of the past decade.
But Guardians 3‘s weekend win offers the studios some encouragement that strong product can still do solid business.
The film easily unseated a trio of Chinese tentpoles that launched a little over a week ago ahead of the May Day local holiday period. Chinese road comedy Godspeed, written and directed by Yi Xiaoxing (Bath Buddy), held onto second place with $15.3 million, taking its total sales to $99.1 million, according to data from regional box-office tracker Artisan Gateway. And the patriotic action flick Born to Fly, dubbed “China’s Top Gun” slid 75 percent from its $40 million first-place opening to earn just $11.2 million for third place in weekend two. Romance movie All These Years similarly tumbled, earning just $3.8 million from Friday to Sunday, after debuting to $18.7 million the week prior.
Industry watchers will be looking ahead for signs of growing momentum for Hollywood with the China release of Universal’s Fast X — a favorite franchise in the market — coming on May 17, and Warner Bros.’ DC superhero entry The Flash on June 16.