China box office: ‘Green Snake’ slithers into $30m opening

a woman standing next to a body of water: Green Snake ChinaGreen Snake China

After several weeks of dominance, China’s pseudo-propagandistic pandemic blockbuster Chinese Doctors was knocked off the top of the country’s theatrical box office over the weekend. Local animated sequel Green Snake made a solid $29.7 million debut, according to data from Artisan Gateway, while Chinese Doctors slipped to $17.4 million.

Produced by pioneering Beijing-based studio Light Chaser Animation, Green Snake is a sequel to the company’s 2019 hit White Snake. Both films are loose, youth-oriented adaptations of an oft-adapted classic Chinese folktale. Chinese ticketing app Maoyan currently forecasts Green Snake to finish its run with $77.5 million (RMB 502.5 million), which would be a significant step up from White snake’s $61.6 million gross.

Green Snake performed particularly well on Imax, opening to $2.6 million, which was 9.1 percent of its total weekend sales the best opening share ever for a Chinese animation title in the giant screen format.

Bona Film Group’s Chinese Doctors, which tells stories of heroism from China’s frontline medical professionals during the earliest stages of the pandemic, has climbed to $176.6 million after 17 days on Chinese screens. That’s the biggest haul, so far, of any film this summer in China. Maoyan forecasts the film to continue to hold strong, expecting a $211 million lifetime total.

Agent Backhorn: King Bear, another local animated feature targeting kids to young adults, opened in third with $4.77 million. Produced by Alpha Pictures, the film suffered from a prolonged release delay due to the pandemic and wasn’t helped by opening opposite Green Snake.

Local comedy The Day We Lit Up The Sky, which debuted Saturday, July 17, added $3.2 million in its second outing for a respectable $22.5 million running total.

Meanwhile, the propaganda juggernaut 1921, which glorifies the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, has been wobbling on increasingly weaker legs, despite being packed with dutiful stars and receiving blanket promotion in Chinese state media. The film has earned $74.6 million since its July 1 opening, which is unlikely to rank among China’s top 20 biggest films of 2021 by year’s end.

China’s theatrical box office, which started the year with a bang during the Lunar New Year holiday, has limped along through the peak earning months of summer so far. Imported Hollywood films have been blocked from release in the country because of Beijing’s celebration of the Communist Party’s 100th anniversary this month. China’s most commercial titles that don’t hew to overtly nationalistic storylines are also waiting out the anniversary period to make their run at cinemas.

As of Sunday, China’s total ticket sales for 2021 were $4.65 billion, down from $5.44 billion in 2019, the last year of “normal” theatrical earnings before the pandemic.

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