Actors dressed as Star Wars characters pose for the media during the opening ceremony for Lucasfilm Ltd.’s Sandcrawler building (Photographer: Nicky Loh/Bloomberg)  

Disney's China Puzzle Unsolved as `Solo' Film Flops

(Bloomberg) -- Walt Disney Co.’s Shanghai theme park draws millions and some of its films have topped box office sales in China. Yet one of its most lucrative franchises is still a flop in the world’s second-biggest cinema market.

Solo: A Star Wars Story” opened in China over the weekend with about $10.1 million in box office sales, behind two films that weren’t even premiering, according to Disney and Box Office Mojo. Romantic comedy “How Long Will I Love You” topped the chart after drawing $37 million for its debut weekend. The superhero hit from Disney’s Marvel: “Avengers: Infinity War” came second for the May 24-27 period, weeks after its $191 million opening, data at the Box Office Mojo website show.

Disney's China Puzzle Unsolved as `Solo' Film Flops

China, on track to overtake the U.S. in movie ticket sales by 2020, is an important market for Hollywood films, including some franchises like Universal Pictures’ “Fast and Furious,” which has sometimes generated more revenue in the country than in North America. That’s one reason Disney keeps pushing the “Star Wars” series in the country, where “Solo” secured a rare concurrent release with North America, even though it lacks the familiarity won in the U.S. by decades of sequels and prequels since its 1977 premiere.

Grace Jiang, a 30-year-old office worker in Shanghai, said she took a chance on “Solo” based on the franchise’s reputation, but almost dozed off halfway through the film.

“The planets and monsters feel weird,” she said at a theater in north Shanghai’s Yangpu district. “Maybe it’s cultural differences or something; in general it doesn’t suit my taste.”

Disney's China Puzzle Unsolved as `Solo' Film Flops

“Solo” also opened to disappointing weekend sales in the U.S. and Canada, a rare slip for a movie studio that has dominated the box office for almost three years with serial-type adventures. The film collected $83.3 million in U.S. and Canadian theaters during the first three days of the U.S. Memorial Day weekend, compared with the $108 million estimate by Box Office Mojo.

In China, Disney’s earlier installment “The Last Jedi,” was also beaten out by a local romantic comedy, Huayi Brothers Media Corp.’s “The Ex-File 3: Return of the Exes.” The “Rogue One” installment generated $30 million in its opening, outside the top 100 movie debuts, according to Box Office Mojo, while “The Force Awakens” was 41st on that list at the time.

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