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7:39 PM PDT 5/29/2016 by Patrick Brzeski
A local art house movie, meanwhile, has become a modest hit after its producer recorded a video of himself weeping and begging theater owners to devote more screen time to independent cinema.
Disney's big-budget Alice Through the Looking Glass cruised to an easy first-place win at the Chinese box office, debuting to $27.1 million during a quiet late-May release window in the Middle Kingdom.
Stateside, Alice 2 has been decimated by Bryan Singer's X-Men: Apocalypse, which doesn't open in China until Friday, giving Disney a little breathing room.
Johnny Depp returns for the sequel as the Mad Hatter, while Mia Wasikowska is back as Alice. Tim Burton, whose Alice in Wonderland was a worldwide hit in 2010, topping $1 billion, declined to direct the sequel, which was instead helmed by James Bobin.
Burton's Alice grossed an impressive $33 million, which was the eighth-biggest overall performance of 2010. (But China's total box office was less than 25 percent its current size at that time.) To climb equally high in the Chinese charts in 2016, the sequel would have to pull at least $150 million, an unlikely feat given its modest debut and forthcoming competition.
After Apocalypse‘s debut Friday, Legendary Entertainment's Warcraft will open just five days later on June 3. The two action pictures are expected to command huge screen counts.
Coming in at No. 2, The Angry Birds Movie earned $13.5 million in its second weekend for a $52 million total after 10 days, according to Beijing-based box office monitor Ent Group.
Captain America: Civil War added $4.3 million for third place, bringing its China cume to $186.4 million. It is now the seventh-biggest imported movie ever in China, behind only Furious 7, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Zootopia, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Jurassic World and Avatar.
In fourth, The Divergent Series: Allegiant earned a soft $2.7 million, bumping its ten-day total to $16.3 million.
Rounding out the top five was local art-house picture Song of the Phoenix, directed by the late Wu Tianming, a profoundly influential figure in the Chinese film world who died in March 2014. Completed in 2013 and released posthumously on May 6, the movie earned another $1 million from Friday to Sunday.
Phoenix has been buoyed by a publicity stunt orchestrated by Fang Li, one of Wu's producers. Shortly after the movie's debut, Fang recorded a video of himself kneeling, weeping and begging Chinese theater owners to give art-house films more screen time — the clip went viral and Fang got his wish. Local observers say initial estimates for the movie were in the $1 million to $2 million range. After 24 days in cinemas, it has grossed $11.9 million. On Friday, Chinese regulators granted the film permission to screen for an extra month.