Walt Disney said "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" generated $53 million at the box office during its opening weekend in China, adding to the success of a film that's chasing the global record set by "Avatar" about six years ago.
China helped the seventh installment of the four-decade-old epic gross an estimated $145.9 million globally over the weekend and more than $1.7 billion since the science-fiction movie was released four weeks ago, according to a statement from Disney on Sunday. That makes it the third-highest grossing movie of all time behind "Avatar" and "Titanic," according to IMDb.com Inc.'s Box Office Mojo.
Success in China, the world's second-largest movie market, is increasingly key for Hollywood studios as analysts predict Chinese ticket sales will overtake U.S. sales as soon as next year. Despite the economic slowdown there, receipts at China's box office surged nearly 50% last year, compared with the 7.2% growth seen in North America.
For Disney, which bought the "Star Wars" franchise from George Lucas in 2012, its latest blockbuster has been a particular success at home. The movie zoomed past the $760.5 million record set by "Avatar" in just 20 days to become the highest-grossing film in the U.S. and Canada.
Disney faces bigger hurdles in matching its U.S success in China and other Asian countries, where the "Star Wars" franchise isn't as well known or have as big a following as in the West. For example, the movie didn't open as No. 1 in South Korea or Vietnam.
Nomura Holdings estimates "The Force Awakens" will gross as much as 1.5 billion yuan in China, which would fall short of records set last year. Researcher Rentrak estimates "Furious 7" generated $391.4 million in China in 2015 and "Monster Hunt," a Chinese fantasy movie, grossed $393.2 million.
As of 2 p.m. Monday in China, "Star Wars" had raked in a total of 365.8 million yuan ($55.6 million) in sales, according to the Chinese entertainment-data provider Entgroup.
-- Bloomberg News