Why Disney’s ‘Last Jedi’ Mind Trick Isn’t Working in China

'Episode VIII' leans heavily on references to the originals, and that doesn't play with young audiences in the world's No. 2 market.
Courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic/Lucasfilm

Star Wars: The Last Jedi suffered one of the worst second-weekend declines the Chinese box office has ever seen. The film’s debut of $28.7 million was already viewed as disappointing, but its 92 percent plummet to just $2.4 million in weekend two was arguably alarming.

The Last Jedi has already been completely pulled from cinemas here,” Jimmy Wu, chairman of nationwide Chinese cinema chain Lumiere Pavilions, told The Hollywood Reporter by phone from Yancheng, a mid-sized city representative of the sorts of towns where the bulk of China’s box-office growth is now generated. “It’s performed much worse than we could have expected.”

The Disney and Lucasfilm tentpole — North America’s biggest movie of 2017, with a domestic total of $591 million and counting and a massive worldwide total of $1.27 billion — may now finish in China with less than $50 million, which would place it way down the list at around 50th place in last year’s rankings, behind disappointments like Valerian ($62 million) and Geostorm ($65.6 million).

The problem for Disney isn’t just that its most valuable film franchise is doing poorly in the world’s second-largest film market — it’s that the situation appears to be worsening with each release. The Force Awakens totaled $124 million in China in 2016 (a number already well below Disney’s forecasts, sources told THR at the time), and franchise spinoff Rogue One earned $69 million in 2017 — a total Last Jedi almost certainly won’t match.

Beijing-based market research firm Fanink has been conducting exit research for all major Hollywood releases at Chinese cinemas since 2014, asking filmgoers to rate the movies in categories such as likability, whether they would…

Sasha Harriet

Sasha Harriet

As content editor, I get to do what I love everyday. Tweet, share and promote the best content our tools find on a daily basis.

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Sasha Harriet

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