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Box Office: China Top North America For 2020 As ‘Demon Slayer’ Nabs Record $44M Debut In Japan

With China still offering potentially huge local blockbusters while Hollywood mostly holds out for next year, that gap will only widen.

Pretty much everything about this year in terms of the entertainment industry (among other arenas of public life) will come with a massive asterisk due to the challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic. Nonetheless, it is now official (so says data from Artisan Gateway) that China’s cumulative box office for 2020 has reached $1.988 billion on Sunday, passing North America’s current running cume of $1.937 billion. And with China still offering potentially huge local blockbusters while Hollywood mostly holds out for next year, that gap will only widen.

But China isn’t the only country whereby local biggies are doing big business. Demon Slayer, a feature-film continuation of a popular anime, scored $44 million in Japan this weekend, including $2.27 million in 38 IMAX auditoriums alone.

Toho/Aniplex’s Demon Slayer just nabbed both the widest opening ever for any movie in Japan and the biggest opening weekend ever for any movie in Japan, giving the industry a massive shot in the arm and arguably showing that, like China and (to a lesser extent) South Korea, audiences are showing up for “big” movies when those movies bother to show up in theaters. China’s theatrical industry, even with capacity limitations and related challenges, has essentially returned to normal. This massive launch for Demon Slayer, even if ends up being fan-driven and frontloaded (I can’t imagine it’s all that user-friendly for the non-converted) implies that Japan might be “back” as well.

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The year’s biggest global grosser is the $80 million, shot-on-IMAX war epic The Eight-Hundred with $460 million-and-counting. That’s above the $426.5 million cume, including $204 million domestic, for Sony’s Bad Boys for Life from back in January. Unless Wonder Woman 1984 sticks with its Christmas release date and performs noticeably better than, say, Tenet ($333 million since late August), 2020 will come and go with, for the first time in history, a Chinese biggie as the year’s biggest worldwide earner. It could also, pending how far The Eight Hundred, My People My Homeland ($360 million and counting) and whatever other Chinese biggies drop between now and December, be the first year since 1995 without even one $500 million-plus grossing movie.

Meanwhile, in North America, Tenet just cracked $50 million domestic and the last two weekends have seen new movies (The War With Grandpa and Honest Thief) top the box office with under $4 million in Friday-Sunday grosses. We’ll see if After We Collided (which has earned $45 million overseas thus far) or even the reissue of Alita: Battle Angel (which has a very… passionate online fanbase) can pull off anything resembling a $5 million Friday-Sunday gross between now and the October 13 debut of Universal’s Freaky. Universal just dropped a trailer and release date (December 4) for Jessica Roth and Solomon Chau’s romantic tragedy All My Life. Comcast CMCSA is almost single-handedly keeping theaters in some business for the rest of 2020.

This is somewhat self-serving, as Universal wants to use these smaller titles (even DreamWorks’ The Croods: A New Age over Thanksgiving, which is arguably less of a priority than an Illumination title) to test out their new deal with AMC allowing them to send a theatrical movie to PVOD in as little as 17 days after theatrical release. Hence Come Play on October 30, Let Him Go on November 6, Freaky on October 13, The Croods: A New Age on November 25, Half Brothers and All My Life on December 4, Promising Young Woman and News of the World on December 25, The 355 on January 15, 2021, Marry Me on February 12, 2021 and Nobody on February 19, 2021.  

We can only speculate as to whether China’s domination is a fluke of the pandemic (China’s theaters closed in late January but reopened sooner and stronger than in America) or the new normal. As I’ve been warned about for years, the emergence of local Chinese mega-movies/tentpoles like Monster Hunt, The Mermaid, Wolf Warrior 2, Detective Chinatown 2, The Wandering Earth and The Eight-Hundred has made/will make China’s moviegoers less dependent on Hollywood flicks, which will in turn make Hollywood biggies less able to artificially juice the global earnings of (usually) already successful global blockbusters. Needless to say, we won’t know the long-term picture until America’s theaters return to normal, which in turn is seemingly dependent on a better nationwide handling of the coronavirus.  

But China’s current dominance and Japan’s current success with Demon Slayer again indicates that, in countries where it’s safe to do so and where audiences are getting tentpoles that justify a trip to the multiplex, theatrical moviegoing is coming back to life in a way perhaps comparable to the pre-pandemic status quo. Theaters outside NYC will open in New York beginning next weekend. Once again, that Hollywood is standing over a cliff due to domestic box office challenges (Tenet is doing pretty okay overseas with $283 million thus far) disproves the decade-old lie about the alleged irrelevance of North American box office. Hollywood may have convinced itself that it needed China, but China sure doesn’t need Hollywood anymore.

Source: Forbes – Business

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