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Crazy Rich Asians had a -- wait for it -- crazy poor debut in China. That's either very surprising or totally expected, depending on your vantage point. It's easy to play Monday morning quarterback, but if the box office were simple to predict, everyone would have a hit every time in every market.
There was speculation, and of course hope from the filmmakers, that the largest Asian nation might embrace the U.S. movie with an all-Asian cast. Instead, China had no interest in the film, which opened in eighth place with only $1.2 million.
China currently has the second-biggest box office in the world, and success stories like Venom have shown how much money films can pick up there if the Chinese audience is engaged.
But it was clear to exhibitors over the weekend that Chinese moviegoers were not into Crazy Rich Asians. The film made less than $500,000 on Friday. Theaters reacted by pulling it from screens across the weekend, which wouldn't help its box office gross, but clearly the bigger problem was apathy from the audience.
Why? Well, it couldn't help that the film came out four months ago here. Maybe they waited too long to release it in China. It wasn't clear if the movie would even open in China at all, considering China's strict content regulators. Also, the storyline focused on Asian-Americans, wealth in Singapore, culture clashes, and what was perceived to some as Asian stereotypes. Apparently none of that resonated with the Chinese public.
Most of China's films already feature all-Chinese or all-Asian casts, so it wasn't a novelty in that market, the way it was in North America. For example, THR reports that the "edgy local dramedy" A Cool Fish held on to its top spot on the Chinese box office chart this weekend, earning $24.2 million. But even Rowan Atkinson's Johnny English Strikes Again did nearly five times the business of Crazy Rich Asians, picking up $5.1 million.
Comic book films have had great success in China -- see Venom again, but also Justice League, which picked up $106 million from China alone -- and DC plans to capitalize on that with Aquaman. The film already had a big premiere in Beijing and it will open this Friday in China, two weeks before we get it on December 21 in North America.
Crazy Rich Asians has made $238 million so far, from what BoxOfficeMojo reports as a $30 million production budget. So it was a success in general, if not in China. With a domestic take of $174 million, it was the highest-grossing romantic comedy in the North American market in 10 years. A sequel to the romantic comedy is in development, based on the second book by Kevin Kwan.