Paramount's Ghost in the Shell opened at the top of the Chinese box office over the weekend, earning $21.4 million to beat a declining Kong: Skull Island, which took $11.2 million in its third frame.
The Scarlett Johansson sci-fi thriller's China opening cleanly eclipsed its desultory $18.6 debut in North America, where a high-profile "whitewashing" controversy and tepid reviews took a toll. But while $20 million-plus isn't Hollywood's worst China launch this year - Passengers opened to $17.5 million during a particularly unfavorable pre-Chinese New Year frame - it's not quite the heroic recoup the studios have come to occasionally hope for from China (See Resident Evil: The Final Chapter's massive $94 million Middle Kingdom opening, or Pacific Rim's $45.3 million bow in 2013, which proved instrumental to the film getting a sequel).
Word of mouth for Ghost in the Shell hasn't been bad. It currently has a rating of 6.6 on leading reviews aggregator Douban, not far behind Kong's score of 6.8. And Chinese mobile ticketing service Weying, which took a 10 percent stake in the film last month, gave it a strong marketing push across its platforms. The cult Japanese anime on which the film is based is much less known in China than other mainstream Japanese properties, however.
With China declining to blow the doors off and Japan even less enthusiastic - the film opened in second place in the source material's home, taking just $3.2 million - the Rupert Sanders-directed effects spectacle looks inescapably like a loss-maker. The movie has earned $124.1 million globally, but cost $110 million to make, before marketing.
After three weekends and 17 days stomping across Chinese screens, Kong's local total has climbed to $160.9 million. The Legendary Entertainment and Warner Bros. period monster epic should push past Vin Diesel's xXx: The Return of Xander Cage ($163.6 million) sometime this week to become the biggest international release of 2017 in China, so far.
The local competition made only modest gains over the weekend. Beijing Enlight's mystery thriller The Devotion of Suspect X, an adaptation of a best-selling Japanese mystery novel, added $9.3 million for a 10-day cume of $52.3 million. Perfect World Pictures' police action thriller Extraordinary Mission earned $3.5 million, bumping its total to $20.4 million.
On Friday, all contenders are expected to be drowned out in the roar of The Fate of the Furious racing out of the gate. Local analysts will be watching closely to see if the latest installment in the hit franchise can come within shouting distance of Furious 7's historic $390 million showing in 2015.