‘The Lion King’ Reigns Supreme On China Friday With $14.5M; Will Surprise Local Pic Stick A Thorn In Weekend?

Disney’s The Lion King roared off to a $14.5M start in China on Friday (including Thursday night previews). This is a terrific launch for the CGI/live-action adaptation of the classic 1994 animated picture and is better than the opening days of comps The Jungle Book ($11.6M) and Beauty And The Beast ($12.4M). Social scores on Lion King are good, and there is reason to expect that the Jon Favreau-directed movie feeds off of those to best the adjusted weekend debuts of TJB ($49M) and BATB ($45M). Lion King‘s Maoyan note is currently at 9, higher than the above films, with a 7.5 on Douban, landing in between the two.

However, early projections of a $50M-$60M weekend now look to be coming in at the lower end of the range (yet still brushing up against the lifetime of the recent Aladdin live-action version). Could that be impacted by the surprise addition of previews on a local title that kick off on Saturday?

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Lion King pre-sales for Saturday look healthy, but the Middle Kingdom has potentially thrown a wrench into the equation: I understand that local title Looking Up has been granted preview showings from tomorrow (Saturday) through Wednesday, ahead of its official bow on Thursday.

Sources I’ve spoken with are mixed on the effect this may have. Some see little to worry about, while others are cautioning that exhibitors may be encouraged to toss screens the way of the local title.

The Chinese summer has been flipped upside-down this year with Hollywood taking pride of place during the typical July blackout on imports. As we’ve noted before, this is believed due to a confluence of issues including a slowdown in local production triggered by the Fan Bingbing tax scandal last year, as well as a crackdown by censors which pulled such presumed surefire hits as The Eight Hundred and Better Days from the July schedule.

Looking Up, a drama from popular director/star Deng Chao, is about the only real hope for the local industry left this summer. Another film, The Last Wish in English, went through a local name change from The Great Wish to The Last Wish before being pulled from its July date. Looking Up was moved from an initial July 26 release back to July 18 and now will start previews from 2PM-6PM local time on Saturday, possibly cutting directly into where Lion King has been expected to find its sweet spot with families. Again, the impact remains to be seen tomorrow.

From Monday-Wednesday, I hear Looking Up will preview in the evenings. Still, there is more concern from folks I’ve spoken with about the second weekend for Lion King than this current frame.

Lion King remains a super-quad property and the full outlook on what is expected to be a critic-proof hit won’t become clear until next week when international box office rollout begins July 17 and domestic goes on July 19.

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