Sunday, January 3, 2010

Avatar (阿凡达) in China Preview

Avatar has dominated the world's box office since its launch on Dec 16th and could surpass the $1 billion mark as early as Sunday, a pace we had never witnessed before. It is now a lock to become the second biggest film all time and could take in as much as $1.6 billion when all said and done. China will be one of the last remaining major territories for it to open in (Italy being the other), and with the recent success of 2012 (460m+ yuan, $68m) and Transformers 2 (454m yuan, $66.5m), the expectation has been raised exponentially. So how high exactly is its potential in China? Let's examine it from various aspects.

Release Date
It was originally scheduled on January 2nd, which would have been an excellent choice (Jan 1st would be the best), especially since people in China do not Christmas off, and New Year truly signals the start of the holiday season that will normally last until a couple of weeks after Lunar New Year. Then for some unspecified reason, the film got moved back a couple of days to Jan 4th and completely out of one of the most lucrative weekends of the entire year. The action created, as one could expect, an immediate uproar and led to suggestion of various conspiracy theories, but it did help raise more awareness. Monday is normally considered the worst day of the week to release a film since many just get back to work, and many could simply wait for Tuesday where all admissions are half price, so on the release date, we definitely can't say it is positive, but it may not matter much in the overall scheme of things due to a couple of factors: 1) Lunar New Year is quite late this year, on Feb 14th, so Avatar has plenty of time to take advantage the holiday season and its festive spirit; 2) the next aspect we're going to talk about.

This is the "tentative" January schedule:

01/04 Avatar
01/15 The Spy Next Door
01/22 Confucius
01/22 The Raven Chaser
01/23 Kai Jia Yong Shi (Armored Warriors?)
01/29 Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel
01/29 Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf 2

Even with the move, Avatar still has 11 full days to itself. And I don't expect Jackie Chan's The Spy Next Door to pose a serious threat. The real competition for the entire month starts and stops at Confucius, which stars Chow Yun-Fat and Zhou Xun, along with a slew of other actors well-known to Chinese. Confucius carries the backing of the national broadcasting company CCTV and has been heavily advertised for some time. However, the market in January is more than capable of having two blockbusters co-exist, and Confucius' release will not cause any loss of Avatar's 3D and IMAX screens, which will account for a good chunk of its gross. In addition, Bodyguards and Assassins is the sole heavyweight in the current market, and there has been no major release since Dec 18th. So overall competition wise, we could categorize it as superb condition for Avatar.

3D/IMAX Screens
Avatar has one definite advantage over 2012 and Transformers: 3D screens. IMAX screens remain rare; in fact, from the last count I saw, there are only 10 of them total, not including the 2 in Taiwan and 1 in Hong Kong. However, China boasts the second highest number of 3D screens in the world next to the U.S. A November report showed both U.K. and China had 400 3D screens, but the amount in China has basically doubled since then, almost all thanks to Avatar. Ice Age 3 showed how successful a 3D film could become in China, earning $22m to become one of the highest grossing animated films ever, and Avatar's potential is much bigger.

Buzz and Advance Sales
The buzz is undeniably big, and it's not just restricted to online community. Many newspapers have given it headlines, and when it originally set the release date on Jan 2nd, it forced 4 films to scramble their respective dates to avoid being too near. The latest report on midnight and advance sales also indicate it has the event film status.

All factors considered, could it break 2012's record of 460-470m total? Definitely. It could even challenge Transformers 2's opening week record of 160m yuan since it has two extra days, although I do see it as more of a leggy film while also having a large opening. My predictions: 150m yuan ($22m) opening week, 510m yuan ($75m) total.

1 comment:

  1. great post.. thanks for your China analysis. It is definitely going to be interesting to see how it will do and i hope that the public watches the film, because in the end, its the people who make decisions. After all, they are aware of the success of the film around the world which i am sure will peak their interest. Furthermore, 2012 was good, but it wasn't on the same level as Avatar, so at least the public will have a higher quality experience.