What could keep 'Star Wars' from being a box office force in China

Star Wars: The box office guide
Star Wars: The box office guide

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" has taken over the box office universe, but there's still one place in which the space sequel has yet to conquer: China.

The Disney (DIS) film opens there on Saturday, the world's second largest movie market.

Since opening around the world in December, "The Force Awakens" has made over $1.5 billion and has shattered box office records. But it's not clear that the film will hit those record-smashing heights in China.

If the film misses the mark there it could put the record for highest-grossing worldwide film, a title held by 2009's "Avatar," out of reach.

However, the success of "The Force Awakens" so far could help build buzz in China.

"Many wonder how 'Star Wars' will resonate in China with regard to the audience response to the history of the brand itself," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak (RENT). "But massive press coverage of the film's quality and its incredible box office run may create enough of a mythology itself and inspire Chinese moviegoers to flock to cinemas."

Some box office analysts are predicting the film could have a $200 million run in China, but are being cautious about making a solid projection due to the uncertainty of the Chinese market.

For context, the top American film in the country's history is Universal's "Furious 7" which made $391.1 million.

star wars daisy john
The film's stars Daisy Ridley and John Boyega with lovable droids R2-D2 and BB-8.

The genre of "The Force Awakens" could help boost the film since big American sci-fi films often play well there.

For example, one of the country's biggest openings belongs to 2014's "Transformers: Age Of Extinction" which brought in $93.8 million its first weekend and $318.7 million overall, according to Rentrak.

The buzz in the U.S. for "The Force Awakens" was arguably raised due to the return of characters like Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, but that nostalgia is missing in China.

The original "Star Wars" films didn't debut in Chinese theaters until this past June, nearly 40 years after the first "Star Wars" movie premiered in the U.S., according to The Guardian.

Related: 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' makes $1 billion in a record 12 days

Disney has gone to great lengths to market "The Force Awakens" to Chinese audiences. This includes publicity stunts like stationing 500 stormtroopers on the Great Wall and making Chinese pop star Lu Han an "official ambassador" for the film.

For the Mouse House, having "The Force Awakens" take off in China is vital with films becoming more globalized and the country becoming a bigger market for Hollywood in coming years.

"The Force Awakens" is just the beginning of the renewed space franchise, so it's important for it to get off to a good start with other "Star Wars" films on the slate.

"China is vital to the success of any global big name franchise," Dergarabedian added. "The future success of the 'Star Wars' brand in China, much like in North America and other territories around the world, is predicated on a solid debut there and the positive ripple effect this will have on all future films, merchandise and product tie-ins going forward."


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