The Marvels‘ disappointing start at the North American box office over the weekend — $47 million, a record low for a Marvel Studios release — is adding to analysts’ concerns that superhero fatigue is an urgent and growing problem for the major studios. But in China, filmgoers have been snubbing America’s caped crusaders for far longer — and The Marvels only marks a fresh low.
The Marvels opened to just $11.5 million in China, losing the three-day weekend to holdover local crime thriller Who’s the Suspect, which earned $11.7 million. Including Thursday night previews, The Marvels‘ four-day total creeps up to $11.8 million.
MCU releases have been underperforming in China since the pandemic, but The Marvels‘ face plant is particularly striking. Back in 2019, Brie Larson’s franchise starter Captain Marvel opened to $89.3 million on its way to a strong $154 million China total. According to current projections, The Marvels will be lucky to top $20 million.
Marvel’s other 2023 releases have also failed to find much traction with mainland Chinese moviegoers. Even James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 — which was a success in North America with a $359 million haul — earned just $27.8 million in China, compared to $48.5 million for Guardians 2 (2017) and $86 million for Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania brought in $39.4 million in China this February, a 67 percent drop from Ant-Man and the Wasp‘s $121 million total in 2018. MCU releases from 2020 to 2022 were significantly affected by pandemic-related delays and cinema closures in China, but social scores on the country’s top ticketing apps throughout this period also began to decline.
U.S. studio franchises across the board have been on the wane in China, but other action genres have held up somewhat better than superhero films. Universal’s Fast X holds the crown for Hollywood’s biggest film of 2023 in the country with a $51.1 million opening and $140 million total. And Transformers: Rise of the Beasts opened to $40 million and topped out at $92 million. Early installments in both film series earned vastly more in China, though, indicating franchise erosion across the board for the studios.
As elsewhere, the standouts in the China market this year have been the Barbenheimer originals. Oppenheimer earned $62 million, Christopher Nolan’s second-best China performance to date behind Interstellar ($122 million) — and a phenomenal showing for a lengthy English-language historical drama in the country. Warner Bros.’ Barbie, meanwhile, opened soft with $8.1 million amid a widespread lack of awareness in the market, but word of mouth among cosmopolitan Chinese women lifted it to a healthy $35.2 million total — significant given that Barbie dolls have almost no history in the country.
Who’s The Suspect (aka Last Suspect), China’s weekend winner, opened a week ago with $23.4 million, including previews. The film is directed by Mo Zhang, daughter of Chinese film legend Zhang Yimou. Produced by Beijing Dino Films, the thriller stars actress Zhang Xiaofei as a lawyer who is forced to defend a death-row suspect after her own daughter is kidnapped. Chinese ticketing app Maoyan currently projects the film to finish its run with about $71 million (RMB 515 million).
The next U.S. film to his Chinese screens will be Lionsgate’s prequel The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, which opens day-and-date with North America on Friday.