If there’s one box office story to pay close attention to this week, it’s the incredible blast-off Pixar’s Coco experienced in China on Saturday, erupting nearly four-fold from its $1.9 million Friday debut to $7.1 million the following day.
That’s like a coiled spring releasing its kinetic power. It will be fun to see how the new animated film tears through box office records in the coming weeks.
What’s especially gratifying about this is that in more than a decade of trying, Disney’s (NYSE:DIS) Pixar division has never had a bona fide hit in the Middle Kingdom. There seems to be something about the Pixar stories, and the way audiences perceive them, that leaves Chinese audiences cold. The trademark originality and whimsicality that have made Pixar’s films so successful in North America and many other territories appear to have worked against the studio in China.
In fact, up until now Pixar has been the worst-performing U.S. animation studio in the Chinese market. While its sister company Disney has racked up a PRC gross of $235 million for Zootopia, while Dreamworks Animation and Universal’s Illumination Entertainment have scored $100+ million hits in the territory, and Sony and Fox have also had $60+ million hits with their animated releases, Pixar has typically seen dismal performances for its movies like Cars 3 ($20.8 million), Toy Story 3 ($16.7 million) and Brave($4.6 million). The studio’s global smash hit Inside Outmanaged to earn just 1.7 percent of its $857 million worldwide total, or $15 million, in the PRC, and Toy Story 3earned barely 1.5 percent there.
When China embraces a movie it becomes a massive phenomenon. The country’s enormous population and its giant exhibition network of over 50,000 movie screen—the world’s biggest—can propel a movie to an extraordinarily lucrative run.
And China has embraced Coco like no other Pixar movie before it. Average moviegoer ratings for the picture at review site Douban are at 9.4, and 9.6 at Maoyan, the third-best this year behind Dangal (9.8) and Wolf Warrior 2 (9.7). Both Dangal and Wolf Warrior 2 reached unprecedented revenue levels at China’s multiplexes; Dangal became the highest grossing non-English-language import in the territory’s history in the spring of this year with a $193 million total, and Wolf Warrior 2 crushed every previous box office record with its $857 million total in the summer.
There’s no real precedent for Coco’s 270 percent day one to day two jump, so it’s impossible to project with confidence where it will end up. I looked over the debuts of hundreds of films and the closest comparable I could find was the 170 percent Friday-to-Saturday leap that Zootopia enjoyed in its first weekend. That Disney film went on to a staggering 67x multiple on its opening day gross, and it still holds the China animation record two years after its release.
In North America the biggest second-day jump I’ve seen was for Warner Bros.’ (NYSE:TWX) The Lego Movie, at an 80 percent Friday-to-Saturday bump. That picture enjoyed a very strong 15x multiple to reach a domestic total of $258 million. The next biggest was in fact Zootopia, which after its 62 percent Saturday bump went on to an extremely leggy domestic run with a 17x opening day multiple and a $341 million North American lifetime gross.