The first screenings of the remake of The Lion King don't start here until this evening, but the movie is already expected to be a massive box office hit, bringing in as much as $200 million during its first weekend domestically. However, the expectations for the movie stretch far beyond our borders, and internationally the movie may already be seeing some trouble.
The Lion King opened in China last weekend and while it brought in a solid $55 million, expectations were that it would have another good weekend this weekend. However, a Chinese family film called Looking Up has opened in China this weekend to rave reviews, and it's already toppled The Lion King at the box office.
By 3 PM Thursday in China Looking Up had already brought in $6 million in ticket sales according to THR, compared to The Lion King's $2 million. That's a hefty margin and seems unlikely that the difference will change all that much as the weekend goes on.
This is important because as a family film, interestingly, one that also deals with a father-son relationship at its core, though among humans, Looking Up is playing to the same audience that The Lion King is looking for.
China is the second largest box office market after North America and so for The Lion King to bring in the most from the box office that it possibly can, it has to do well in China. Disney as done a lot to make China a major market for its films. While Star Wars movies and Pixar have a tendency to struggle in China, proper Disney films and Marvel usually make up large portions of their box office there.
The Lion King came up just short of bringing in $1 billion in the mid-90s when the original animated film was released. There had to be an expectation that the remake would break that barrier by a healthy margin. If only because the international market, and especially China, are only a bigger part of the overall box office picture today than they were 25 years ago. It still might end up being a solid hit in China, but if the movie performs significantly below expectations in China, it's going to take a lot from the rest of the world to recover from that.
Of course, this isn't some sort of nail in the coffin of The Lion King remake. The movie is still going to make a metric ton of money and probably still be the second highest grossing movie of the year both domestically and internationally.
Still, if the China numbers do suffer, it will be an example of just how fickle the box office can be, and how sometimes the reasons that some movies don't put up certain numbers can have less to do with a movie itself and a lot more to do with circumstances.