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'Martian' soars to top of China box office; 'Star Wars' to touch down Jan. 9

Despite a late blast-off in China, more than a month after its stateside launch, “The Martian” soared at the mainland box office last week, taking in $48.4 million in its first five days in theaters.

The 20th Century Fox release benefitted from the star appeal of Matt Damon, Chinese audiences’ enthusiasm for all things space-related, and the fact that the plot includes a save-the-day role for China’s space agency. 

FULL COVERAGE: 'Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens'

Chinese fans of American space films won’t have to wait long for their next fix -- Disney said late Monday that it had secured a Jan. 9 release date for its new “Star Wars” installment on the mainland. That’s about three weeks after its U.S. debut.

The studio has been laying the foundations for Chinese release for months now, sending Storm Troopers to the Great Wall for a photo-op and having R2-D2 appear on a recent TV gala show. In June, the Shanghai International Film Festival presented all six “Star Wars” films in the series so far.

"We are thrilled to bring 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' to China on January 9th," John Hsu, newly appointed general manager of Disney’s China film operations, said in a news release. "We're excited to be rolling out our marketing campaign and to connect with new fans in China through 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens.'"

In second place at the Chinese box office last week was “Our Times,” a Taiwan-produced romance that has benefitted from strong word of mouth. The film, which opened Nov. 19 and took in about $18 million its first four days in theaters, saw its haul rise to more than $23 million last week for a cumulative gross of more than $40 million, according to film industry consulting firm Artisan Gateway.

The English-language French action thriller “The Transporter Refueled” claimed the No. 3 spot, with $7.3 million, followed by the local Chinese production “The Vanished Murderer,” with $6.3 million, Artisan said.

In fifth place for the week was Sony’s “Spectre,” which added an additional $6 million to its receipts, Artisan said. But with its cumulative gross now at $83.6 million, the 007 movie looks unlikely to cross the $100-million mark on the mainland.  

Follow @JulieMakLAT for news from China

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