The Star Wars franchise has never been the blockbuster in China that it is in the west, but Rogue One: A Star Wars Story may have more to deal with than simply a lack of name recognition. The film is set to open in the second largest box office market in the world but it appears that the timing may not be the greatest, as large parts of the nation are dealing with hazardous levels of air pollution which may have many would-be moviegoers staying home.
China's box office totals over the New Year's Weekend dropped 23% compared with the same period last year. While China's box office has been in slight decline since last spring, The Hollywood Reporter says that many are attributing the recent significant drop to the fact that large sections of Northern China, like the capital city of Beijing, are dealing with some absolutely atrocious levels of air pollution. The box office drop in those areas was as much as 34 percent, while areas to the south that were clear only saw a drop of 13 percent. The belief is that many, especially families with children, were deciding to skip the cinema and stay indoors in order to avoid the smog.
Neighborhoods in Beijing were apparently registering air quality index scores of 300. The US government rates scores of 301 or higher as "hazardous" as opposed to simply "unhealthy." Needless to say, this is actually a real concern. The air in China right now should not be breathed by living things.
This is all very bad news for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story which, like many Hollywood productions today, look to China for significant box office revenue. Star Wars: The Force Awakens did a respectable, if unimpressive, $124 million last year. The number was solid, but nothing compared to what the movie put up in most of the rest of the world. It's possible that Rogue One may have trouble hitting that number if people are forced to stay home.
The Star Wars franchise simply isn't as well known in China as it is pretty much everyplace else. To combat that, Disney cast two popular Chinese actors as members of the Rogue One team. While many in China were afraid this was being done simply as a token gesture in order to get Chinese people to see the movie, the roles played by Jiang Wen and Donnie Yen are as significant as most of the other members of the team.
As somebody who has actually been in China during some pretty awful air quality, I can completely understand if the last thing people want to do is leave the house. It looks terrible and feels worse when you're in it. However, my airplane was able to take off in that mess and apparently the visibility is so bad right now that flights are being canceled. It appears that the Star Wars franchise may have yet another setback in their attempts to get over in China.