'Rogue One' opens in China, and audiences say 'Meh'

In China, igniting "Star Wars " fever appears to be a goal far, far away for Disney.

Underscoring how perhaps The Force was not particularly strong with this country, "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" opened to a fairly tepid $31 million over three days at the Chinese box office this weekend, according to comScore.

That was about 60 percent of what "Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens" grossed in its first two days in the country a year ago, comScore said.

"Rogue One" managed to take the top spot in China this weekend. Still, its performance shows Disney still faces an uphill battle when it comes to cashing in on perhaps its most valuable franchise in the all-important Chinese market.

Many Chinese were not familiar with the original "Star Wars" trilogy when "The Force Awakens" marketing machine revved up. Even the prequels that debuted between 1999 and 2005 predated the current boom at the Chinese box office.

To drum up excitement, Disney launched a marketing blitz ahead of the Chinese debut for "The Force Awakens," even lining up the film's iconic stormtroopers along the Great Wall.

"You can't walk into a mall in China I'm told without seeing Star Wars everywhere," IMAX CEO Richard Gelfond told CNBC last January. "We did a lot of viral marketing, a lot of online things that appeal to consumers."

That push appeared to work at first. "The Force Awakens" set a record for a two-day premiere in China, but the receipts fell sharply in the second weekend.

English-language movies get a short release window in China, so a relatively low opening weekend does not bode well for the ultimate prospects for "Rogue One" in the country.

Still, "Rogue One" has now earned more than $914 million around the world, putting it among 2016's top global releases. It is also just shy of edging aside "Finding Dory" for the top spot at the U.S. box office for the year.

Disney also performs well in China with its movies based on Marvel Comics. That franchise tracked the explosion in Chinese movie-going, and the country is frequently the best-performing market for comic book adaptations after the United States.

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