China Box Office: ‘Capernaum’ Makes Surprise Breakthrough but ‘Endgame’ Still Reigns

Though “Avengers: Endgame” remains the uncontested top title in China, where it broke dozens of box office records within days to emerge as the most successful foreign film ever in the country, the surprise upstart of the weekend was the Lebanese film “Capernaum,” which has become a breakout sensation nearly a year after its Cannes festival debut.

Residents in China had four days off last week from Wednesday through Saturday for the May Day national holiday, but were back at work Sunday. “Capernaum” debuted in China on Monday, April 29 –  a day when “Avengers,” coming off its stunning five-day debut weekend, had never yet dipped below 87% market share.

The Arabic- and Amharic-language film took in $12.5 million over the three-day weekend, according to consultancy Artisan Gateway, already more than quadruple early predictions that it would make only around $3 million in China. But after five days of unexpectedly high sales, apparently in large part due to good word of mouth, the festival title is now predicted to take in $50 million (RMB338 million) – more than the China haul of superhero film “Shazam!”

Though nine minutes of material have been cut by Chinese censors, the film still boasts a stellar 9.4, 9.1 and 8.9 out of 10 across the major Chinese review platforms Maoyan, Tao Piaopiao and Douban, respectively. Its debut last Monday, two days ahead of May Day, appears to have given it enough time to accumulate momentum from the good reviews to put in a strong showing over the holiday period.

“Capernaum” won last year’s jury prize at Cannes and was nominated for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for best foreign-language film. Fellow 2018 Cannes arthouse film “Shoplifters,” the Japanese drama that won the Palme d’Or, also did very well in China, where it made $14 million, far surpassing its U.S. earnings of $3.3 million and becoming the highest-earning live-action Japanese title in the Middle Kingdom.

In third place behind “Avengers: Endgame” and “Capernaum” at the weekend box office was the Chinese romantic comedy “Always Miss You,” which debuted last Wednesday, the first day of the holiday, and earned $4.4 million. Paramount’s holdover animated feature “Wonder Park” took in $1.6 million, coming in fourth.

Chinese crime thriller “Savage” performed more modestly, earning just $1.1 million. At its peak on opening day, it only accounted for 8.5% of screenings and by Sunday had only 2.3% of market share.

Times Vision, the company representing the Cui Siwei-helmed film for international sales, told Variety it was “dumbfounded” by its disappointing performance. “We believe that a film as outstanding as ‘Savage’ ought to have had greater success. Such a performance has spurred us to deeply reflect and has contributed to our greater understanding of the Chinese market and its audiences’ desires.”

Variety called the film “an above-average thriller… [marking] a confident directing debut,” and described it as a “stylish execution of a simple and fast-paced plot that contains sufficient character development and emotional weight to keep viewers involved.”

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