Marvel superhero films no longer earning big at China’s box office
Published: Mar 02, 2023 11:18 PM
Illustration: Hang Dachuan/Global Times

Illustration: Hang Dachuan/Global Times

Box-office tracking site Maoyan on Thursday revealed that the 2023 Chinese mainland box office has reached 14 billion yuan ($2.03 billion) to date, with domestic movies being the biggest contributors.

However, recent Marvel superhero films Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania have been struggling to win over Chinese moviegoers, as they contributed only 2.3 percent.

As of Thursday, the Black Panther movie has scored a bleak 105 million yuan ($14.5 million) since hitting the silver screen in the Chinese mainland on February 7, more than three months after it was released in the US. It currently has a 5.4/10 rating on Chinese media review site Douban. The Ant-Man movie, which kicked off Phase Five of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has climbed to 234 million yuan since it hit mainland theaters on February 17, the same day release as North America. It has a 6.1/10 on Douban.

The previous Ant-Man film Ant-Man and the Wasp earned 831 million yuan in 2018, while the first Black Panther, which debuted a few months earlier that year, saw its box office in the mainland reach 662 million yuan. 

The two new Marvel films were needed to restore the franchise's reputation in China after a nearly three-year hiatus. 

After the world's most populous country optimized its restrictions on cinemas in December 2022, the market has seen a surge in moviegoers. Benefitting from the crowds, Hollywood blockbuster Avatar: The Way of Water, which was released in the Chinese mainland on December 16, 2022, has earned 1.68 billion yuan in China. 

Two Chinese domestic movies, science fiction action-adventure film The Wandering Earth 2 and historic suspense comedy Full River Red, have won big since their debut at the beginning of the Spring Festival holiday period in late January. The Wandering Earth 2 has bagged a box-office take of 3.94 billion yuan while Full River Red has earned 4.48 billion yuan.

Marvel's previous success in China only amplifies the recent flops. 

Since the Avengers assembled in 2012, none of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies earned lower than 340 million yuan at the mainland box office to date, according to data collected by news portal, while the highest box-office take of 4.25 billion yuan was scored by the 2019 blockbuster Avengers: Endgame. 

The reason for the drop in popularity of Marvel films is obvious.

After years of experiencing the glamour of individual superheroes, Chinese audiences, who once swarmed to cinemas to watch the midnight premieres of Marvel movies, have seemingly grown tired of such movies in which one man saves the world. 

In a country where collective heroism is often praised, movies featuring group efforts are often better received when they tell a great story, as was the case for the Avengers movies and The Wandering Earth series. 

The increase in quality of domestic movies, as is the case for the aforementioned blockbuster film The Wandering Earth 2 and the Full River Red, also gives Chinese moviegoers more options when heading to cinemas, which takes away the attention imported movies once enjoyed. 

Movie industry insiders believe Marvel is in talks with China's movie authority concerning the future release of its cinematic universe, such as the Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3, which is expected to be released internationally on May 5. If the film will be released in the mainland, it could be another test for Marvel to see if its glamour remains.