"Transformers: Age of Extinction" looked set to oust "Avatar" on Tuesday to become the top-grossing movie ever in China as the Paramount Pictures film continued to dominate the mainland box office for a second week.
The Michael Bay film had rolled up more than $215 million in ticket sales in mainland China by the end of Monday, its 11th day in theaters, figures from film industry consulting firm Artisan Gateway showed, just about $9 million shy of the record set by "Avatar" in 2010.
The fourth installment in the Transformers franchise was breaking other records as well, reaching the 1-billion renminbi ($166-million) milestone more quickly than any other film in history, Artisan said (other films that have crossed that threshold took between 20 and 30 days). Released June 27, the movie may even reach the $300-million mark before its run is out. At numerous theaters in Beijing, tickets were priced at nearly $21.
Paramount went to great lengths to court the Chinese market, filming in Hong Kong and parts of the mainland and casting Chinese performers including Li Bingbing. The film's premiere was held in Hong Kong and the movie was presented as the final-night screening at the Shanghai International Film Festival.
But it hasn't been entirely smooth sailing for "T4" in China. The movie included numerous product-placement arrangements with Chinese brands, and not all of them are happy with the way their deals turned out.
One hotel-mall complex, Pangu Plaza, has already filed a lawsuit against two middlemen that it claims failed to deliver on promises including getting Paramount to feature the building in the film's posters and other promotional materials. Pangu even sought to persuade government authorities to block or delay the film's release but were unsuccessful.
Now another entity is making noise that it is unsatisfied with a product-placement agreement it had signed with M1905, the online arm of the state-run China Movie Channel. Representatives of the Wulong Karst National Park in Sichuan province held a news conference in Beijing on Monday to claim that they had paid to have a sign identifying the park included in the film, but that it was not.
Park officials said they intended to take legal action, but there was no evidence as of Tuesday evening that any lawsuit had been filed. M1905 is one of the film's production and promotion partners.
In all, for the seven days ending Sunday, "Transformers" took in $115 million. In second place for the week was the local production "The Breakup Guru," which took in $41 million for a total of $66 million despite going head-to-head with "Transformers."
In third place for the week was Disney's "Maleficent," which took in $4.4 million for a total of $43 million on the mainland. The Chinese-South Korean production "Bunshinsaba 3" was in fourth place with $3.7 million and the late-coming Oscar nominee "American Hustle" — debuting more than half a year after it opened stateside — managed to hustle up just under $1.5 million.