Disney/Pixar’s sea monster story Luca has been granted an August 20 release date in China, signaling that the end of the giant market’s latest unofficial blackout period may be afoot. While Luca will take a prime slot amid a series of local holdovers and is the first Hollywood studio title to release since June, its date also comes at a time when about 30% of cinemas are closed in the market due to a Covid surge, and as box office overall has been muted there. Last week, movie theaters reset capacity limits to 75% in low-risk areas, and those in medium- and high-risk areas were closed. Presumed local blockbuster The Battle At Lake Changjin subsequently postponed its August 12 release.
Disney will have more than a week to get the China Luca marketing machine going — a luxury that was not afforded some movies earlier in the season. Luca is also getting a Friday launch, rather than the head-scratching Sunday release for Cruella in June. Pixar has seen mixed results in China, but 2020’s Christmas release of Soul went on to gross $58M and overtook Incredibles 2 to become its second biggest Middle Kingdom title ever.
The well-reviewed Luca debuted theatrically in non-Disney Plus markets in mid-June and has grossed $30M to date. The coming-of-age tale is directed by Oscar nominee Enrico Casarosa (La Luna). Set in a seaside town on the Italian Riviera, it centers on a young boy experiencing an unforgettable summer. Luca shares his adventures with his newfound best friend, but all the fun is threatened by a deeply-held secret: they are sea monsters from another world just below the water’s surface.
While Luca’s appearance on the schedule could be a harbinger of increased free-flow to come between China and Hollywood, there is a backlog of several studio movies that have yet to be dated. Most notably, they include Disney/Marvel’s Black Widow, Warner Bros’ Space Jam: A New Legacy and Disney’s Jungle Cruise, as well as upcoming titles to have been submitted such as Warner’s Reminiscence and Dune, and Disney’s Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings. The last major Hollywood title to release was Sony’s Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway in mid-June.
July was expected to be a blackout period for imports, and we had heard that could stretch into August, which did come to pass. Although Chinese turnstiles have seen great recovery since cinemas reopened last year, local movies did not perform as hoped during the July/August period. Released on July 9, Chinese Doctors is the winner at a cume of RMB 1.28B ($197M). Local media has reported that overall box office totaled RMB 5.3B ($817M) for the June-July period, whereas 2019’s June-August was over RMB 17.7B ($2.73B).
Smaller foreign imports including the UK’s A Christmas Gift From Bob and France’s Bigfoot Family opened on August 6, taking in RMB 9.4M ($1.45M) and RMB 4.6M ($709K) through Tuesday.