Why Black Panther and other Hollywood films failed to unseat Aamir Khan's Secret Superstar at the Chinese box office
Aamir Khan's Secret Superstar is the highest-grossing import film of 2018 in China. What makes it stand tall above Hollywood films like Black Panther in the Chinese market?
Chadwick Boseman's boundary-smashing money-spinner Black Panther has been on a benchmark-setting spree at the box-office ever since its release on 29 January. Hailed as a cultural phenomenon for being the first Marvel film to feature a predominantly black cast, the movie has continued to set the cash registers ringing across the length and breadth of the world.
Black Panther is now the highest-grossing superhero film of all time in North America. It's also the highest-grossing comic book adaptation in North America and the fifth highest-grossing domestic film of all time and it is on the verge of dethroning Jurassic World to take the fourth spot after the Easter weekend. Globally, Black Panther is the twelfth highest-grossing film of all-time and the highest-earning solo superhero movie ever.
However, in China, the world's second-largest movie market, the Ryan Coogler-directorial has suffered defeat at the hands of Aamir Khan's Secret Superstar, which is still the highest-grossing import film of 2018 with a lifetime revenue of nearly $118 million.
Black Panther has earned a total of $105 million in the Middle Kingdom; a disappointing box-office haul considering other significant territories where the movie has raked in the moolah consistently. Black Panther however, is not the only big-budget Hollywood vehicle that has failed to attract moviegoers in China this year. Secret Superstar stands tall above Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, Tomb Raider and Maze Runner: The Death Cure.
Gavin Feng, a Chinese box-office tracker, feels there's a growing confidence among exhibitors to screen non-English imports thanks to the success of recent Indian films. "Chinese distributors have more and more confidence in non-English import films, especially Indian movies. Everyone wants to run a project of Aamir Khan's in China. They also want to make another actor like Salman Khan become a superstar in China. I’m not sure how many Indian films will land this year. If Chinese investors want, it’s not difficult to let more Indian movies see the light of day in China," she said.
Universal's Pacific Rim: Uprising — which was the most highly anticipated import film in China in the first quarter — has pulled in nearly $87.23 million in 9 days in the PRC. It's now the third highest-grossing import film of 2018 in China, only behind Secret Superstar and Black Panther. However, Pacific Rim: Uprising will not be able to unseat Secret Superstar, observes Gavin.
"Pacific Rim: Uprising won’t beat Secret Superstar or even Black Panther in China. It’s a surprising but reasonable result. It shows how important the WOM is in China today. Black Panther and Pacific Rim: Uprising enjoyed a fantastic opening but dropped soon because the local audience didn’t enjoy it," she said.
While Dangal is raved about as China's leggiest film with a weekend-to-cume multiple of nearly 14.4, Secret Superstar is currently 2018's leggiest import film in China. "In China, there is a trend for movies to get worse multiples every year, because theaters love to give extra showtimes to new releases on opening weekend and drastically reduce it towards the second weekend following the arrival of new titles. Most Hollywood movies find it difficult to get a 2.5 multiplier or even two sometimes."
Crunching solid examples of Hollywood imports in China, Gavin says, "The Fate of the Furious ($196M three-day debut to $388M lifetime gross) has a 1.98 multiple, Spider-Man: Homecoming has 1.78 ($127M/$226M), Transformers: The Last Knight has 1.78 ($127M/$226M), Black Panther currently holds a 1.58 ($67M/around $105M), Star Wars: The Last Jedi has 1.44 ($28M/$40M). Secret Superstar however, has a wonderful 4.26 multiple."
Hindi Medium would be the next Indian release in the mainland cinemas of China on 4 April . Will it strike gold at the ticket window like the recent release Bajrangi Bhaijaan, which marked the foray of Salman Khan into the mainland? "In China, WOM is everything. The key reason why Secret Superstar and Dangal did good business in China is people think it’s great. We love Aamir Khan because he showed us good movies. If a big star continuously delivers bad movies, the audience will abandon him soon," Gavin said on a concluding note.
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