China Focus: "Robot Dreams" and "Civil War" set to heat up China's summer box office

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by Xinhua writer Zhang Yunlong

BEIJING, May 30 (Xinhua) -- "Without a single line of dialogue, it captures the essence of human emotions -- loneliness, companionship, longing, and letting go -- which are all the indispensable elements of love," a netizen commented on China's Douban review platform, referring to the award-winning animated film "Robot Dreams."

The Chinese mainland summer box office is set to sizzle following the recent announcement that the Spanish-French co-production will be released on June 8. Since its Cannes premiere in May 2023, the Pablo Berger film has wowed global audiences, garnering numerous awards, including the European Film Award for best animated feature, and an impressive rating of 9.1 out of 10 on Douban.

Adding to the excitement, "Civil War" from the United States' A24 arthouse studio will hit Chinese mainland theaters on June 7. The film explores a near-future U.S. torn by internal conflict through the eyes of a war correspondent, and it has already generated a substantial buzz among Chinese moviegoers.

These releases, along with the opening of U.S. animation "The Garfield Movie" on June 1 and Japanese music documentary "Ryuichi Sakamoto: Opus" on May 31, round out a diverse foreign lineup for the Dragon Boat Festival holiday, which will be celebrated from June 8 to 10, and Children's Day on June 1.

Presales and preview screenings are already underway, indicating fierce competition between domestic and international films. This marks the beginning of the longest single seasonal slot in the Chinese mainland film industry, spanning June 1 to Aug. 31.

Japanese animation "Doraemon the Movie: Nobita's Earth Symphony" and "The Garfield Movie" are leading user rankings for the most anticipated movie for Children's Day, according to movie data platforms Maoyan and Beacon on Thursday.

The Doraemon movie series, a staple of the Children's Day Chinese mainland box office, has topped the charts for three consecutive years from 2021 to 2023. It remains to be seen if this streak will continue in 2024.

The three-day Dragon Boat Festival holiday, however, usually has a more significant impact on summer box office numbers.

Analyst Chen Jin from Beacon has noted that last year's Dragon Boat Festival holiday hit "Lost in the Stars" boosted summer box office revenues significantly.

The 2023 Chinese mainland summer box office hit a historic high of 20.6 billion yuan (about 2.9 billion U.S. dollars), accounting for 37.5 percent of the market's annual total. Notably, "Lost in the Stars" contributed over 3.5 billion yuan, making up 17 percent of last year's summer box office.

The Dragon Boat Festival arrives two weeks earlier this year, and over 10 new releases spanning genres from crime and comedy to war and family drama are poised to set a strong tone for the summer season ahead, said Chen.

As of Thursday morning, the top-five-grossing films in presales and previews for the holiday are Hong Kong-set drama "Crisis Negotiators," teen comedy "Be My Friend," crime comedy "Walk the Line," family drama "Gold or Shit," and U.S. dystopian thriller "Civil War."

The upcoming release of "Civil War" marks A24's first foray into the Chinese mainland market. The film is "highly topical both in its narrative and marketing," said Yin Tengyu, a senior analyst at the Maoyan Research Institute.

Yin also highlighted that while Dragon Boat Festival films may capitalize on early-summer student audiences, they will face stiff competition from subsequent summer releases. Effective marketing and positive word of mouth will be crucial for sustained box office success.

Since March, several foreign films have performed strongly on the Chinese mainland. Legendary Pictures' sci-fi flick "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire" released in late March and Hayao Miyazaki's animated fantasy "The Boy and the Heron" released in early April have grossed 950 million yuan and 790 million yuan, respectively, placing sixth and seventh on the 2024 mainland box office chart.

Rao Shuguang, president of the China Film Critics Association, has emphasized the importance of introducing diverse global films to Chinese audiences. "The aim has always been to bring the best films from around the world to China," he said, expressing his hope for a synergistic relationship between Chinese cinema and high-quality international films to invigorate the industry. Enditem

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