The head-to-head battle of two animated giants in China turned out to be a rout.
Twentieth Century Fox's "Ice Age: Continental Drift" destroyed Universal Pictures' '"The Lorax" at the box office after both opened Friday -- the first salvo in an effort by the country's largest film distributor to depress ticket sales of Hollywood movies.
Released through China Film Group, the fourth "Ice Age" film grossed $15.7 million, while "The Lorax" took in only $964,000.
Fox was helped by securing far more theaters: 3,500, compared with just 1,060 for Universal. Both movies were fighting for as many 3-D screens as possible to capitalize on the popularity of the technology in China.
Also helping "Ice Age" is the fact that it opened in the U.S. only two weeks ago, while "The Lorax" debuted in March. Once films debut anywhere in the world, pirated copies are typically available quickly in China. As a result, many interested moviegoers may have already seen "The Lorax" on DVD or online.
In addition, "Ice Age" is an established franchise that is already beloved overseas; the third film in the series collected $22.6 million in China in 2009.
The China results reflect an overall international dominance for "Ice Age: Continental Drift," which has grossed $516.3 million so far from foreign countries. "The Lorax" has grossed only $110.6 million, with two major markets left to launch.
In a recent interview with the state-owned People's Daily, Zhang Hongsen, deputy head of China's Film Bureau, said the country is taking "protective measures," including opening American pictures against each other, "to create a space for domestic movies to survive and grow."
In the first six months of 2012, the box-office revenue for Chinese-made films dropped 4.3% compared with the same period last year to $439 million, according to a report in China Daily. Ticket sales for foreign pictures rose 90% to $825 million.
Superhero Hollywood tentpoles "The Dark Knight Rises" and "The Amazing Spider-Man" have both been scheduled to debut in China on Aug. 30, though Warner Bros. is lobbying officials to push back the debut of its Batman film to September.
In addition, thrillers "The Bourne Legacy" and "Total Recall" may open on the same day in China in September.