LOS ANGELES — A blowout opening weekend for “Captain America: Civil War” proved once again the near-universal appeal of Walt Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s particularly true in Disney’s most important foreign market and one where it’s opening a new theme park next month: China.
“Captain America: Civil War” made $96 million during its opening weekend in China, which is more than Warner Bros.’ “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” earned over its entire run there. And with that auspicious beginning, the new film has a real chance to catch “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the highest-grossing Marvel movie of all-time in China and the No. 2 Disney production there, after this year’s animated smash hit “Zootopia.”
The success of its newest Marvel film continues Disney’s hot streak at the Chinese box office. Released between “Zootopia” — which reeled in almost $240 million in China — and “Captain America: Civil War.” Disney’s “The Jungle Book” has brought in more than $140 million and counting. And with China’s censors unofficially restricting foreign fare to about 45 percent of the total box office, each Disney hit further boxes out the competition.
Jonathan Papish, an industry analyst at China Film Insider, pointed out that Disney didn’t even shy away from calling the movie “Captain America” in a direct translation in China, despite that not necessarily being the optimal title to clear Chinese censors. Its title has been translated as “First Avenger” in Russia and South Korea. But, in China, that was apparently no big deal, despite the fact an April op-ed in a military-backed newspaper blasted “Zootopia” and other U.S. productions as propaganda tools.
Disney has played a long game with its Marvel films, releasing every one from 2008’s “Iron Man” through “Captain America: Civil War” in the Middle Kingdom, even though China’s box office back then was a fraction of what it is now. In 2008, the country’s theaters pulled in a little more than $600 million. Last year, they took in almost $7 billion. And, as they are poised to blow past that number in another record year with box office receipts clearing the $2.5 billion milestone before “Captain America: Civil War” even made its appearance, Marvel movies are keeping pace.
“Avengers: Age of Ultron” made more than $240 million in China when it was released last year, and “Captain America: Civil War” has a real shot at topping that, given its opening weekend jackpot. The fact it has “Avengers” stalwarts such as Chris Evans’ Captain America and Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man — as well as Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier, a Chinese fan favorite, according to Papish — certainly helps, but the film itself has plenty of appeal.
Unlike “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which put Chinese audiences to sleep, and “Batman v Superman,” which had them playing on their phones, “Captain America: Civil War” earned a robust 8.2 out of 10 score on the Chinese film review site Douban. Again unlike the dark “Batman v Superman,” the bright, colorful aesthetic of Disney’s Marvel movies also play well in a country that’s adding Imax and other premium large-format screens by the handful.
While Comcast’s NBCUniversal unit has the rights to use the Marvel characters at its theme parks in central Florida, meaning Iron Man will not be appearing at Walt Disney World, that is not the case in China. So there will be a Marvel attraction at Shanghai Disneyland Park, which is set to open June 16. In today’s China, there’s almost no bet safer than “Captain America,” which is the real magic of Hollywood.