'Furious 7' may beat 'Transformers' record at China box office

'Furious 7' is racing toward surpassing the all-time China box-office record

With its record opening day, "Furious 7" has a good shot at surpassing the all-time China box-office record set last summer by "Transformers: Age of Extinction."

The Universal Pictures film, the latest in the "Fast & Furious" franchise, opened Sunday and brought in $61.3 million in its first 24 hours, figures from film industry consulting firm Artisan Gateway showed Tuesday. That's more than double what the fourth "Transformers" brought in on its opening day last June. The fourth installment in Michael Bay's giant-robot franchise eventually went on to sell $305.9 million in tickets, the most for any film ever in China. 

"Furious 7," starring Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez and the late Paul Walker, won't be facing any serious Hollywood tent-pole competition at the box office for the next few weeks and will play through China's three-day holiday May 1-3, said Artisan President Rance Pow.

The next big Hollywood release, Marvel's "Avengers: Age of Ultron" is slated to arrive in China on May 12, though there are a number of smaller films that could present road bumps for "Furious 7," including Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Sabotage," and the Dreamworks Animation film "Home."

The "Fast & Furious" franchise has built up a significant fan base in China since the fourth film in the series was released in theaters in 2009 as China's film industry was just taking off. That movie brought in $4.5 million, while the fifth movie in the franchise, released just two years later, earned $41.6 million. “Fast & Furious 6” took in a total of $66.8 million in China in 2013, Pow said -- just $6 million more than the new film earned in a day.

In late March, Universal brought Diesel, Statham and Rodriguez to China to promote the film, Pow noted, stoking interest. The movie has also benefited from strong fan sentiment for Walker, who died in a car accident in 2013 while "Furious 7" was in production. And the general growth of car culture in China in recent years, with a booming middle and upper class now having the means to purchase and accessorize automobiles, has created strong interest in car-themed films.

But whether Chinese authorities will put the brakes on "Furious 7" remains to be seen, said writer-producer Robert Cain, a longtime observer of China's film industry. 

"A major question 'Furious 7's' box office bonanza brings up is whether the Chinese film authorities at SARFT [the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television] will deploy their market-management tactics to actively crimp the returns of upcoming Hollywood releases, in order to save face for locally made Chinese films," Cain wrote on his Chinafilmbiz blog.

Cain said the powerful start for "Furious 7" has raised expectations for "Avengers" and that one of those two titles is likely to be the 2015 China box-office champ.

"Up until last week the consensus for 'Avengers' was for a $175 million to $200 million [gross]; now that figure looks relatively unimpressive," Cain wrote. "Still, Marvel and Disney should hold off on making any victory laps until SARFT reveals its hand."

Despite being in Chinese theaters only one day last week, "Furious 7" easily lapped the competition. In second place was the Chinese special forces film "Wolf Warriors," directed by and starring martial artist Wu Jing, which added $36.6 million to its earnings, bringing its cumulative gross to more than $70 million.

In the No. 3 spot for the seven days ending Sunday was the TV spinoff "Let's Get Married," which took in nearly $20.2 million, bringing its total gross to $44 million.

Rounding out the top five films were 20th Century Fox's "Kingsman: The Secret Service," which has taken in $71.7 million since late March, and the Belgian animated film "The House of Magic" (about a cat's efforts to save his adopted household from a nefarious real estate agent), which has earned about $6.4 million to date.  

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