NEW YORK: "The Great Wall" was a hit in China. In North America, it was a dud.
The most expensive film ever made in China and with a budget of $150 million, "The Great Wall" was intended to prove that the world's no. 2 movie marketplace could produce Hollywood-sized blockbusters of its own. Though it ran up $171 million in ticket sales in China, "The Great Wall" pulled in $18.1 million in its North American debut over Presidents Day weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday.
That was good enough for third place, falling behind last weekend's top two films, "The Lego Batman" and "Fifty Shades Darker." The Warner Bros. animated release easily led the box office again with $34.2 million in its second week, sliding only 35 percent. Universal's "Fifty Shades Darker" sold $21 million in tickets in its second week. The erotic sequel continues to play well overseas, where it led international business with $43.7 million over the weekend.
Slammed by critics, "The Great Wall" didn't measure up to its initial ambitions. It was produced by Legendary, which has since been acquired by Chinese conglomerate Wanda Group. The film, directed by Zhang Yimou, originated with an idea by Legendary chief executive Thomas Tull, who exited the company last month.
But "The Great Wall" isn't a bomb. It has made $244.6 million overseas and performed over the weekend in North America slightly better than some pundits expected.
"This is absolutely a strategy that's worldwide," said Nick Carpou, distribution chief for Universal. "Worldwide, we are one of many markets."
Universal could still claim four of the top 10 films, the other two being "A Dog's Purpose" ($5.6 million in its fourth week) and "Split" ($7 million in its fifth week), so far the top film of 2017.
More East-West productions like "The Great Wall" are sure to follow. Studios already regularly partner with Chinese film companies on everything from "Transformers: Age of Extinction" to "Warcraft," a flop in the U.S. and Canada with $47.4 million, but a $220.8 million hit in China.
Films like "The Great Wall" and "Warcraft," however, prove that finding the right balance between American and Chinese tastes remains a difficult balancing act.
For Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore, the more significant factor for "The Great Wall" wasn't its multi-national origins but its Rotten Tomatoes rating: a dismal 36 percent "fresh."
"Just like every movie irrespective of country of origin, reviews matter," said Dergarabedian. "Audiences only care about the movie. They don't necessary care where it came from."
Two other new releases, both from 20th Century Fox, also failed to catch on. The comedy "Fist Fight," starring Ice Cube and Charlie Day as feuding high-school teachers, opened with $12 million.
And Gore Verbinski's gothic horror "A Cure for Wellness" — his follow-up to the box-office bomb "The Lone Ranger" — made just $4.2 million, a result that won't help the director's standing in the industry. On Friday, Fox apologised for using fake news stories to promote the film.