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Sony's 'Passengers' dominates China's box office, just before deluge of Chinese films for Lunar New Year

Heartthrob stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt helped Sony’s romantic space adventure “Passengers” dominate China’s box office last week, in the run-up to the Lunar New Year holiday, when vacationers flood theaters.

The pair are popular in China, and the film added $17.1 million to its gross of $34.5 million since opening Jan. 13, according to film industry consulting firm Artisan Gateway.

A domestic romantic comedy, “Some Like It Hot,” struggled to catch up. The film racked up $12.8 million, dropping nearly 40% from the previous week. Its 24-day ticket sales totaled $82.7 million.

Disney’s sci-fi film “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” earned $8.7 million, bringing its cumulative total to $61.5 million since Dec. 30.

It did better than the new sci-fi “Arrival,” which opened Friday and only took in $7.3 million. This is the sixth Hollywood movie and the third sci-fi film released in China this month. It earned a quarter of what “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” grossed when it opened two weeks ago.

Paramount Pictures’ “Arrival” didn’t draw people because Chinese audiences imagine Hollywood sci-fi films are like the “Transformer” series, which “contain amazing visual effects,” said He Yan, a film critic. But for “Arrival,” that’s “not the selling point of the film.”

Chinese animation "Bonnie Bears: Entangled Worlds," received $7 million in ticket sales. The film is expected to sweep the children’s market over the Chinese New Year movie-going frenzy.

The upcoming weeklong holiday may change the feeble box office landscape in China with four high-profile domestic films: Stephen Chow’s “Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons,” “Buddies in India,” directed by Chinese comedian Wang Baoqiang, “Kungfu Yoga,” starring Jackie Chan, and “Plough Through,” the second film of renowned Chinese writer Han Han.

Last year, “The Mermaid,” “The Monkey King 2” and “The Man From Macao 3” boosted China’s box office during the holiday to over 3 billion yuan, a nearly 70% increase compared with 2015. This made the Chinese New Year holiday the most important period in film ticket receipts last year. (It’s also when the country’s film regulators ban imported titles to give room to domestic ones.)

Artisan predicts the holiday will result in a 30% rise in box office sales from a year ago as more people go to movies in China, now the largest theater operator in the world.

Yingzhi Yang is a special correspondent.

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