“The Hunger Games,” Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.’s film about teens fighting to survive in a dystopian society, got off to a slower start in China than the U.S., where the novel behind the picture is better known.
Sales in China of $26 million are the movie’s third-highest for territories outside the U.S., said Peter Wilkes, a Lions Gate spokesman. While helping raise the worldwide total to $680 million, the intake in China trails the figures for Universal Pictures’ “Battleship” and Walt Disney Co.’s “John Carter,” movies that flopped domestically.
After “The Hunger Games” topped expectations at home, surpassing the final “Harry Potter” film, Lions Gate turned to China, the third-largest movie market, to extend the success. Standing in the way for now is Chinese consumers’ unfamiliarity with the Suzanne Collins novel behind the movie, which opened there on June 14, said Robert Cain, president of Pacific Bridge Pictures, a consulting firm in Santa Monica, California.
“‘This is a property that just is not as well known in China,” Cain said in an interview. “As I looked on the social-media sites, they weren’t really chatting about it as much as other films.”
In “The Hunger Games,” an authoritarian government selects teens each year to fight to the death on live television. The film’s political elements haven’t affected its performance in China, Cain said.
“It was a little surprising they allowed it,” Cain said. “Once they’ve approved it, the audience doesn’t look at ideology.”
Three sequels may generate higher sales as audiences in China get to know the storyline and characters. The second film, “Catching Fire,” is scheduled for release in November 2013. “Mockingjay” will be divided into two movies, set for showing in 2014 and 2015.
On opening in March “The Hunger Games” collected $152.5 million in weekend sales in the U.S. and Canada, according to Box Office Mojo, a film researcher. American tastes haven’t proved a predictor of those in China. “Battleship” is the sixth-best performing film in China this year, with $50.2 million in sales, and “John Carter” is No. 8, with $41.6 million, according to Pacific Bridge’s Chinafilmbiz website.
In the U.S., both of those films trailed far behind “The Hunger Games.” “John Carter” commanded $73.1 million in the U.S., “Battleship” $64.5 million, Box Office Mojo shows.
Taking on Chinese partners is one strategy film companies are trying to boost their chances of successfully bringing U.S. movies to China. The third “Iron Man” film, scheduled for release next year, will be a co-production between Disney’s Marvel unit and Beijing-based DMG Entertainment, and will feature Chinese characters.
The first “Iron Man” film took in $15.3 million in China in 2008, compared with $318.4 million in the U.S., according to Box Office Mojo. Two years later “Iron Man 2” took in $7.9 million after collecting $312.4 million in the U.S.
U.S. movies dominated the China box office during the first half of this year. “Titanic 3D,” the three-dimensional conversion of James Cameron’s 1997 film, is China’s biggest hit, with $154.8 million in ticket sales, according to Pacific Bridge. The top-performing Chinese movie is “Painted Skin: Resurrection,” a 3-D action-fantasy film that has registered $46.9 million in sales.
“For most of this year, the audiences are really turning away from locally made films,” Cain said. “Every week this year has been led by U.S. films, except where there’s no new Hollywood release.”