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Sino-India relations

The Bollywood movie that’s beaten Star Wars at China’s box office

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 January, 2018, 11:16am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 January, 2018, 1:18pm

Bollywood is attracting Chinese film-goers with a Hindi-language hit that is outperforming Star Wars in a market that Hollywood has staked out for making big-budget blockbusters pay.

Secret Superstar, the tale of a 14-year-old Muslim Indian girl who strives to become a singer, has topped China’s box office since its local release on January 19, surpassing sales for Star Wars: Last Jedi, according to ticketing data provider Maoyan.

The second straight hit in China for Bollywood actor-producer Aamir Khan, Secret Superstar underscores how quickly the world’s second-biggest film market is evolving from franchise fare like Universal Pictures’ Fast & Furious instalments to a taste for films from all around the world.

Based on results from the past 12 months alone, hits from India, Thailand and Spain show China’s box-office may already be less blockbuster-centric than America’s.

Meet the secret superstar of China, from India: Aamir Khan

The state-run Xinhua news agency made a diplomatic connection in an editorial: “Chinese film-goers’ appreciation of Aamir Khan’s films reflect the common aesthetic pursuit of the two countries, which should be extended from the cultural aspect to broader areas, including politics and the economy.”

Khan’s Dangal drew US$193 million in China last year, according to Boxofficemojo.com. By comparison, the biggest take for a foreign-language film ever in the North American market was US$128 million take for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon almost two decades ago.

Secret Superstar is on track to become the second-biggest selling non-blockbuster in China with box office revenue of about 743 million yuan (US$117 million), Maoyan estimates.

Thailand’s Bad Genius, about two poor but brilliant students who make a living helping rich kids cheat on standardised tests, generated US$41 million in 2017 – 13 times its Thailand sales. Spanish-language thriller Contratiempo (The Invisible Guest) grossed US$26 million in the mainland in 2017, sixfold more than at home, according to Boxofficemojo.com.

Those respective Chinese grosses would be enough to rank among the all-time top 10 for foreign-language releases for North America where only three films have ever exceeded US$50 million.

English-language films from Hollywood remain the dominant import to China, helped by an agreement under World Trade Organisation rules under which China has imported about 34 films a year on revenue-sharing basis from the US.

How a Bollywood film topped China’s box office and opened debate on feminism

There is still no magic formula for success in Chinese cinemas.

Two tales from Hollywood’s Fast and Furious series rank among the country’s top five earners in history. But some Star Wars tales have been lacklustre.

Pixar’s animated Coco scored about US$190 million in China last year, almost matching its North America sales, while Walt Disney’s Cars 3 barely reached US$20 million, compared with more than US$150 million in the US, according to Boxofficemojo.com.