At 4:30 in the afternoon, Zhou Xinxin, a 35-year-old vice president of marketing for a Chinese medical company, was playing hooky from work. He settled into a plush red chair at the IMAX Wanda Cinema in central Beijing, donned a pair of 3-D glasses and prepared to get his fill of velociraptors, T. rexes and triceratops. “I was in a bad mood,” he said, “so I asked for the day off.”
For the next two hours, Zhou laughed, gasped and nearly jumped out of his seat twice as the prehistoric beasts of “Jurassic World” stomped and chomped across the screen. He chortled when Owen made fun of Claire’s high heels, wondered aloud what kind of guns were being used, and cracked up when the two lead characters smooched after narrowly avoiding the jaws of death.
“I really love American films — even amid the horror, there’s a humanity,” said Zhou, who’s seen all the previous “Jurassic” pictures. “In the beginning, Claire doesn’t care about relationships but then comes to focus on the family bonds. Even the raptors can communicate, they show their human side.”
Meet just one of the Chinese moviegoers behind the global roar of Universal Pictures’ “Jurassic World,” which has made an estimated $981.3 million internationally and is expected to set a record for the shortest amount of time to surpass $1 billion — just 13 days. More than $150 million of that is from China, the world’s second-biggest market, where the genetically revived and reengineered dinosaurs got a jump start by barging onto screens two days before they did in the U.S.
Decoding the appeal of three-dimensional dinosaurs isn’t exactly rocket science. Like cinema buffs in many countries, Chinese filmgoers hold Steven Spielberg — director of the first two movies in the series and executive producer of the third and fourth installments — in high regard. But China’s movie market was essentially closed to foreign films when the original “Jurassic Park” was released in 1993, so Chinese audiences never had the chance to see it in theaters.
A 3-D re-release of the original did ferocious business in China in 2013, racking up about $56 million in ticket sales, about $11 million more than in the U.S. re-release. To stoke interest in the new film, Universal brought director Colin Trevorrow and stars Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard to the mainland for a press tour in late May. Thanks to his turn in “Guardians of the Galaxy” last year, Pratt is building a base of fans on the mainland, where he’s known to many of them simply as Star-Lord, his “Guardians” character.
Fans on Douban.com, one of China’s biggest sites, have given “Jurassic World” an average of eight out of 10 stars. Online, viewers have delved into myriad details of the movie, discussing Howard’s footwear and hairdo, teasing out the through-lines from the earlier installments and the larger Spielberg film canon, and discussing the moral of the story. (A Universal representative said the picture had not been edited or censored for the Chinese market.)
“22 years after the gates of Jurassic Park opened, when that background music began, my heart was afire,” wrote one fan, who called himself Garlic Boy A. “The all star-dinosaurs from the previous three installments showed up. Human beings trampled nature, and dinosaurs repaid humans, which was the highlight of the entire film. Velociraptors served as a thread, tyrannosaurs from the first film reappeared, and the scene of the mosasaurus was a salute to ‘Jaws.’”
One female fan pondered how Claire appeared to have “gotten a perm” while rescuing her nephews, while another inquired about the brand of her nude pumps. “You can climb, wade, drive, fight and run ahead of a tyrannosaurus in those shoes!” she marveled.
“Jurassic World” is riding a surge of interest in American tent-pole films in China. This spring, Universal’s “Furious 7" shattered box-office records here with about $380 million in receipts, while “Avengers: Age of Ultron” has made almost $240 million.
In the lobby of the Wanda theater, patrons can stow their belongings in coin lockers festooned with images of Marvel and DC Comics characters, including Spider-Man, Batman and Thor. On one wall, autographs of Hollywood directors including Michael Bay and Brett Ratner are showcased alongside those of Chinese stars; the cinema has also hosted Beijing premieres of U.S. films including “Transformers: Age of Extinction” and “Hercules.”
Across from a concession stand, display cases held expensive collectible figurines for sale: a 12-inch-tall Hulk for $900, an Iron Man for $655. A life-size Superman statue stood stoic outside the theater where “Jurassic World” played, while the walls were covered with illuminated posters featuring Wolverine, Magneto, Storm and other Marvel characters.
Though homegrown Chinese films have also been doing well at the box office this year — some titles have earned $150 million — last week, the five top-grossing movies were all imports: “Jurassic World,” “San Andreas,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” plus the Indian movie “P.K.” and the Japanese cartoon “Stand by Me Doraemon,” according to film industry consulting firm Artisan Gateway.
Posters in the hallway teased more Hollywood fare: “Insurgent” this month, “Minions” in July and “Fantastic Four” in August.
Clutching a $5 bucket of kettle corn, 31-year-old Zhou Yuan accompanied her boyfriend, Zhang Chao, 36, into a 6:50 p.m. showing of “Jurassic World.” The couple had paid $17 apiece for their tickets but called the price reasonable.
“I don’t see too many Chinese films,” Zhang said. “They have no plot, and the visual effects are bad.”
Richard You, an architecture student, comes to the movies every week. Recently, he’s taken in “Furious 7" and “Avengers: Age of Ultron” as well as Chinese productions such as “Wolf Totem,” another 3-D action film featuring vicious creatures.
“Chinese films are getting better,” he said. “I like both.”
Having seen the first three “Jurassic” films on DVD, You was eager to finally get a chance to catch the action on a supersize screen, and he brought his girlfriend along for the experience.
“I’m satisfied. I especially liked how they incorporated music from the earlier films and paid tribute to the past movies,” he said. “It was pretty awesome.”
Harvard Zhang in The Times’ Beijing bureau contributed to this report.