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

'Martian' soars to top of China box office; 'Star Wars' to touch down Jan. 9
Matt Damon in a scene from "The Martian." (20th Century Fox)

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. 

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.

A Chinese poster for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."
A Chinese poster for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." (The Walt Disney Co.)

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