At China box office, 'Avengers' now No. 3 all time, Japan's 'Doraemon' a hit

'Stand by Me Doraemon,' the first Japanese film imported into China in three years, grosses $38.7 million

The Japanese robot cat Doraemon broke through at Chinese cinemas last week, overtaking the Avengers to claim top spot at the box office as foreign films ruled the charts.

“Stand by Me Doraemon,” the first Japanese film imported into China in three years, opened Thursday and collected $38.7 million in its first four days in theaters, according to data from film industry consulting firm Artisan Gateway. The movie, featuring the long-popular blue feline from the future, was a smash at the Japanese box office when it was released there last year.

The computer-animated movie looks to have a shot at surpassing the record for the top gross for an animated film in China, currently held by DreamWorks Animation’s 2011 release “Kung Fu Panda 2,” which raked in more than $96 million. 

Doraemon has long been a figure of envy in China. A commentator for the state-run tabloid Global Times remarked Tuesday that the popularity of Doraemon "indicates Japan's robust soft power in cultural communication. In sharp contrast, China's indigenous cultural products are much less influential."

"Complaints have been filed against the shoddy scripts and poor animation skills. The market and audiences don't lie," wrote Liu Zhun. "Although the Chinese cultural industry, especially movie and TV production, has dramatically advanced and brought in huge profits in recent years, we cannot deny that without originality and real care about humanity, few domestic cultural products deserve to be called 'high-quality' or 'exquisite.'"

The success of the film comes less than a year after several state-run Chinese newspapers warned that the robotic cat from the 22nd century was a propaganda tool used by the Japanese government to cover up atrocities from the World War II era.

“We have to be clear about the strong political meaning behind [the cartoon]," the Chengdu Daily, the main Communist Party newspaper in the capital of Sichuan province, warned in September. “Doraemon is a part of Japan’s efforts of exporting its national values and achieving its cultural strategy; this is an undisputed fact. Taking this to heart, we should be less blind and keep a cool head while kissing the cheeks of the chubby blue guy,” the publication said. The paper later came in for harsh ridicule.

Although “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” slipped to second place on the weekly box office chart, the Marvel film added nearly $17 million to its tally and now ranks as the third-highest grossing film of all time in China, with almost $227 million in ticket sales. Only Universal Pictures’ “Furious 7” and Paramount Pictures’ “Transformers: Age of Extinction” have grossed more, with $391 million and nearly $306 million, respectively.

Debuting in third place was Disney’s “Tomorrowland,” which took in $14 million after opening last Tuesday.

The Indian sci-fi fantasy “P.K.,” starring megastar Aamir Khan, added $6.9 million to its tally, pushing its total take to $12 million — a record for an Indian film in China.

Lionsgate’s “I, Frankenstein,” belatedly imported after its 2014 stateside release, rounded out the top five for the week, grossing $6.4 million since opening last Tuesday, Artisan said.

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