The one place where “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” won’t break records is the world’s second-largest movie market -- China -- and without a big performance there the Walt Disney Co. film will struggle to overtake “Avatar” as the top-grossing picture of all time.
“The Force Awakens,” set to open Saturday in China, could gross as much as 1.5 billion yuan ($230 million) through its full run in mainland theaters, according to Nomura Holdings Co. “Furious 7” holds the local record of $391.2 million set in April.
The “Star Wars” franchise, one of Hollywood’s most valuable movie properties, isn’t as well known in China. That presents a marketing challenge for Disney, which paid $4 billion in 2012 for the series creator and plans to make four more “Star Wars” pictures. China, where ticket sales grew 48 percent to $6.75 billion last year, is set to become the biggest movie market in the world as soon as 2017.
“I’m skeptical it’ll hit with many new fans, given the film’s nostalgic tone and the comparatively muted reaction elsewhere in much of Asia,” said Jonathan Papish, an analyst at BoxOffice.com, which predicts $150 million to $200 million in China.
In Hong Kong last weekend, “The Force Awakens” lost its first-place hold over the box office to the local-language movie “Ip Man 3,” according to Papish. South Korea and Vietnam were among the few countries where the movie didn’t open as No. 1. “The Force Awakens” has broken more than 40 box-office records, according to Box Office Mojo, and is poised to add another this week when it passes “Avatar” as the biggest film in North America.
“For any big budget blockbuster film, China is increasingly critical,” said Paul Sweeney, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst. “The Force Awakens” needs to do well there to have a chance at breaking the global record of $2.79 billion, also held by “Avatar,” he added.
A Disney spokesman declined to comment on the film’s prospects in China. “The Force Awakens,” released in most markets in December, has generated $1.54 billion in worldwide ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo. The total is almost certain to top $2 billion, according to Cowen & Co.
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