The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, Lionsgate's latest offering, found itself in the ring at China's box office, but the outcome wasn't as triumphant as anticipated. Its third-place opening, trailing behind two local films, yielded a mere $4.6 million, marking a disheartening chapter for U.S. franchise films in this market.
Chinese audiences rated Songbirds & Snakes with moderate to low social scores, with Maoyan, a popular ticketing app, predicting a meager $7 million total by the end of its run. This underwhelming reception contrasts starkly with the success of the previous four Hunger Games movies, led by Jennifer Lawrence. The Hunger Games (2012) amassed $27 million, followed by The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) at $28 million, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014) at $36.5 million, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015) at $21.5 million in China.
However, it's not just Lionsgate's prequel feeling the heat. Disney's The Marvels encountered a dismal start, recording an all-time-low opening of $11.5 million in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, plunging to sixth place in its second weekend, and now estimated to cap at a meager $15 million.
The slump isn't limited to superhero flicks alone. U.S. studio franchises across various genres face decline in China. Fast X from Universal claimed the top spot for Hollywood in 2023, but even its $51.1 million opening pales compared to earlier installments. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts debuted at $40 million, reaching $92 million, indicating a broader erosion of franchise appeal in the Chinese market.
Contrarily, the Chinese crime thriller Who’s the Suspect, helmed by Zhang Mo, daughter of revered filmmaker Zhang Yimou, maintained its grip, securing the top spot for the third consecutive week, amassing $10.6 million and a total of $68.1 million. This gripping narrative, featuring actress Zhang Xiaofei defending a death-row suspect, captivated audiences.
Alibaba’s domestic drama, Be My Family, also witnessed a steady climb, earning $4.8 million over the weekend and hitting $15.4 million in total.
Adapted from Suzanne Collins' book, The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, despite winning the domestic North American box office at $44 million, fell short of expectations. Starring Rachel Zegler and Tom Blyth and backed by a stellar cast, including Peter Dinklage, Jason Schwartzman, and Viola Davis, the prequel, directed by Francis Lawrence, returns to the dystopian world but failed to replicate past success overseas.
The landscape for U.S. franchises in China is undoubtedly challenging. While superhero sagas stumble and established series witness declining returns, local productions and culturally resonant narratives continue to capture the audience's imagination, underscoring a shifting preference and taste in this thriving film market.