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Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon” could be facing a Waterloo in China, where early box office indications point to a disappointing opening shot.

The Apple Original Films production had clocked RMB6.1 million ($860,000) by 7:45 p.m. local time in mainland China on Friday, according to estimates from ticketing and box office tracking firm Maoyan.

That was only good enough for fourth place behind a trio of local films – two holdovers and one new release title. Market leader,“Across the Furious Sea” had taken RMB27.9 million ($3.88 million) by the same point on Friday, for a seven-day cumulative of $44 million.

Maoyan’s early tracking shows “Napoleon” with a market share marginally more than 8%, a figure borne out by similar data from another Chinese source, Ent Group. Presales through the weekend give the film 6-8%, though that could vary quickly if exhibitors support the title or turn against it. Ent Group shows “Napoleon” playing some 14,000 screenings on Friday.

If the film’s slow Friday start turns into box office defeat over the next few days, “Napoleon” will join a long list of Hollywood movies that have failed to advance far into hostile territory this year.

Among current releases, “The Marvels” completed its third weekend in Chinese cinemas with just $15.5 million. Disney’s “Wish” opened with just $3.7 million in three days. And “The Hunger Games” prequel “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” finished its second weekend with a 10-day cumulative of $7.7 million.

Those slender numbers make it easy to forget that China is the world’s second biggest theatrical market and has enjoyed over $7.2 billion of box office so far this year, according to consultancy Artisan Gateway. The firm also calculates that imported titles have managed to take only 16% of that, while Chinese local titles accounted for 84% as of Thursday.

There have been some bright spots for Hollywood in China this year. “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” ($66 million) both surprised on the up side and featured in a strong summer for mainland Chinese theaters. But “Fast & Furious X” stands out as by far Hollywood’s best shot of 2023 with RMB985 million, or $139 million.

This year, there have been fewer impediments to Hollywood movies releasing in China than usual. Quota slots have mostly been filled, blackout periods have been less onerous and rights owners have had slightly longer leeway to build marketing campaigns.

“Napoleon” released in China barely a week after it began its North American and international campaigns, potentially giving it some momentum from overseas word of mouth.

In its opening weekend sortie, “Napoleon” earned some $33 million in North American (domestic) release, according to ComScore, putting it second behind “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.” But it did better in international markets, where it captured $46.3 million.

“Napoleon” also boasts scale and spectacle, which appeal to Chinese audiences for whom emotional intensity and value for money are significant factors. But working against it are the relatively low profile of its stars and director – many of Scott’s biggest films released before China’s multiplex era – and the far-away subject matter.

The Chinese ticketing agencies have not yet published user ratings, but Variety’s unscientific sampling of early online commentary harvested from fan site Douban suggest mostly positive responses, especially for the film’s epic staging.

“The historical facts are mainly about the love story, but the war scenes are also very exciting. It is really good-looking [..] cinematography is amazing. Every frame is a wallpaper,” said one Douban comment.

“The filming is indeed wonderful. If the movie was called ‘Napoleon and Josephine,’ the literary and theatrical controversy might be much less. Director [Scott] may not be a fan of Napoleon, but he must be a supporter of Josephine,” said another member using the handle Agent A Shen.

Scott’s most recent outings in China are “The Martian” (featuring a significant Chinese subplot), which earned $95 million in 2015, and 2017’s “Alien Covenant,” which earned $45.4 million.



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