Heroic figures at box office

Huge opening weekend for Marvel blockbuster indicates record haul


Scarlett Johansson is one of the many returning for Avengers: Endgame

Die-hard Marvel fan Xiaoli had waited anxiously for the release of Avengers: Endgame, the final film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s current series. So on April 23, the day the blockbuster came out in China, the 21 year-old Hangzhou student rushed to her local cinema with a few of her friends. When the ending of the three-hour blockbuster approached, Xiaoli was so distraught that she sobbed openly in her seat.

Soon she was bawling so much that she started to feel chest pain and her feet felt numb, so her friends rushed her to the hospital.

“I saw that the patient had been breathing heavily, and according to the description from her peers, we thought that her crying had caused hyperventilation,” Xiaoli’s doctor told Hangzhou News. “We immediately gave her oxygen, reducing her hyperventilation symptoms.”

While this reaction to the movie might strike some as excessive, Endgame’s takings in China have been equally dramatic. The film has already crushed box office records, taking a colossal Rmb2.3 billion ($341 million) during its five-day debut, the most for any film (local or overseas) in China. The strong momentum continued with the takings surging past $500 million on Thursday – making it the first Hollywood film to surpass half a billion dollars in Chinese box office revenues.

The Marvel blockbuster couldn’t have come at a better time for China’s movie industry. Right before the release, box office takings were at a two-year low, calculated 21CN Business Herald. Between April 15 and 21, sales were Rmb401 million, down 28.5% on the prior week, also the lowest figure so far this year.

Endgame brought some sign of life back to the sector. The film has had a 95% share of takings since last weekend and now hogs nearly 80% of screenings across the entire country. Demand for tickets was so astronomical that virtually every show was sold out, even though the film was playing around the clock.

Because of its strong word of mouth popularity – the film has a rating of 8.8 out of 10 on Douban, the film and TV review site – Chinese movie-ticket service Maoyan predicts that ticket sales will continue to surge. It now reckons Endgame will gross at least Rmb5 billion by the end of its run, which would make it the best-performing non-Chinese film ever. It remains to be seen whether it might even surpass the Rmb5.7 billion record of Wolf Warrior 2, which holds the record as China’s highest grossing film ever.

Marvel’s devotees in China, meanwhile, are finding it sad to part with the heroes. “The Marvel Universe used three hours to say goodbye to the fans. It is a gathering, a reunion and a farewell. As the final instalment, I think the cast and directors have done their best. There is plenty of laughter and a lot of tears. Farewell, we look forward to the next generation,” one gushed.

“At the midnight showing, there were so many tears and so much applause. Such a poetic and selfless ending! I wanted to scream and cry and laugh and smile all at once. Thank you Marvel, for giving all us fans the last decade,” another wept.

Endgame looks set to be 2019’s top film, but other foreign productions did well in China in the first quarter t0o (box office takings for overseas films in that period rose 20.7% compared with a year ago). Nor was it just the blockbusters like Bumblebee and Alita: Battle Angel that were popular; Green Book and Bollywood film Andhadhun also enjoyed success.

Domestic films haven’t done as well. According to data from Maoyan, their first quarter sales were Rmb18.6 billion, down 7.9% year-on-year. The one exception was sci-fi blockbuster Wandering Earth which made Rmb4.7 billion during the key Chinese New Year holiday period.

Endgame could benefit from a holiday bump too. Normally the Labour Day holiday on May 1 is a single-day affair, but this year the government has extended it by three days, giving it more of the feel of the week-long Lunar New Year or the October holiday that takes place around National Day. These longer vacations give films a boost and in this instance it is unexpected leisure time, which may make a trip to the cinema even more likely. Given the unusually emotional reaction to the film from diehard Marvel aficionados, it’s not hard to imagine many will see it twice too.

The film’s popularity is also throwing up some unusual situations for moviegoers. In one case in a town in Zhejiang province, local officials have taken the chance to show photos of 60 longstanding debtors during the closing credits in a bid to shame them into paying up. One man is already said to have complied because his daughter was planning to see the movie with friends.

In Hong Kong, where Endgame fever is showing little sign of subsiding either, one film fan has learned that spoiling the movie for others can have dangerous consequences as well. He reportedly shouted its major plot lines to people who were waiting in line at a cinema. They were so angry that a brawl ensued and a photo of the ‘spoiler’ circulated online, showing him sitting on the street with his head bleeding. Not exactly a superhero ending…



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