Back in 1995, the Chinese box office wasn’t even close to what it is now, so when The Lion King opened there (a year after its domestic release) it made only $5 million. Things are much different now with the release of the live-action remake of that animated classic. A week in advance of its domestic opening, Jon Favreau’s The Lion King debuted in China and it got off to a roaring start in its opening weekend.
The Lion King opened in the Middle Kingdom on July 12 and over its first weekend the photo-realistic remake made $54.7 million, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The tracking on The Lion King had it opening somewhere between $50 million and $60 million in the country so this is right within that range. This is a strong debut for the film, which is playing in China in both a dubbed version and a subtitled version with the English-language cast.
The $54.7 million opening is easily the best for any of Disney’s live-action remakes in China, surpassing this year’s Aladdin, which made $18.8 million, as well as Beauty and the Beast’s $45.2 million and previous king The Jungle Book’s $46.5 million. The Lion King also got many to pony up for the better presentation, with $6 million of the film’s $54.7 coming from 618 IMAX screens, a share much better than The Jungle Book or Beauty and the Beast.
This start sets The Lion King up to swipe the crown from Mowgli and Baloo, and pass the $150 million box office haul of The Jungle Book to become the most successful of Disney’s live-action remakes in The Middle Kingdom. Chinese ticketing app Maoyan sees The Lion King completing its run in the country with $165 million depending on how well it holds and the fierceness of the competition.
Part of what has elevated The Lion King to this level of success in China and what could bode well for it moving forward is that the film is receiving favorable buzz and positive scores from audiences on the various ticketing platforms. However, local film, the family drama Looking Up, is also receiving very positive buzz and a rapidly expanding theater count and when it opens wide on July 18, it could eat into The Lion King’s long-term prospects.
The Lion King opens domestically on July 19 and it has been expected, as basically all Disney films have been, to save an otherwise lackluster summer box office. The pre-sales for The Lion King were through the roof and tracking had it possibly crossing $200 million opening weekend. There is no doubt that The Lion King will be big, but now that the reviews are out it’ll be interesting to see just how big.
The Lion King is in danger of ending up rotten on Rotten Tomatoes, thanks to many less-than-impressed reviews that marveled at the film’s technological achievements, but lamented its lack of emotion and novelty. I tend to think that for this kind of spectacle movie, with this level of nostalgia and emotional investment, those negative reviews won’t matter much, at least not for opening weekend, people have already made up their minds. It’ll be interesting to see audience reaction though and how well the film holds over the course of its run.
The Lion King roars into theaters on July 19. Check out our premiere guide to see all the other movies you can look forward to this year.