Is there a superhero more quintessentially American than Superman? The hero that came to stand for “truth, justice, and the American way”? Probably not, yet Chinese filmgoers love him anyway.
Man of Steel, a retelling of the character’s origin but with a darker twist, claimed nearly 80% of box office receipts, or $5.86 million, on its opening day in China. The film entered this weekend having already topped $35 million in ticket sales, according to data cited by The Hollywood Reporter.
Worldwide, Box Office Mojo pegs Man of Steel‘s haul at $422.1 million through Friday, with $188 million of that from overseas territories.
For stock investors, a big reception around the globe increases the odds that Man of Steel can be for DC what 2008’s Iron Man was for Marvel: a stepping stone to a wider franchise. That Chinese moviegoers are already interested is a welcome sign.
Yet DC has a long way to go if it’s to catch Marvel and studio parent The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS). Iron Man 3 set a new single-day record during its Chinese debut, grossing $21.1 for during its launch.
Still, any progress is worth noting, since Chinese consumers have been slower to embrace DC films. Take The Dark Knight Rises, which grossed $52.8 million in China. Impressive, right? Sure, but U.K. viewers accounted for $90.3 million in ticket sales.
By contrast, Marvel’s The Avengers earned $84.1 million in Chinese theaters, versus $80.4 million in the U.K. China already likes what The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) and Marvel have to offer, while the censors are still getting to know Time Warner Inc (NYSE:TWX) and DC.
What 1 billion people can do for Superman and his friends
Man of Steel is a good start. But Time Warner Inc (NYSE:TWX)’s next steps are critical. China’s annual movie market tops more than $2 billion despite efforts to keep a tight lid on features. Regulators allow for only 20 U.S. film imports each year, with another 14 premium screenings of 3-D or IMAX Corporation (USA) (NYSE:IMAX) films.
Studios, meanwhile, get only 25% of the box-office haul from Chinese screenings. Still a big number for a tentpole film — already more than $8 million for Man of Steel, if THR‘s figures are to be believed — but also a far cry from the 50-50 theater split common to other territories around the world.
Time Warner Inc (NYSE:TWX)’s best bet for maximizing the opportunity may be to bear-hug IMAX Corporation (USA) (NYSE:IMAX), which saw a 58% boost in revenue from showings in Greater China in the first quarter. The company was serving 113 theaters in the region as of March 31 — up from 73 the year prior — with 117 more still to be completed.