The Great Wall bombs at N. American box office

The Great Wall, starring (from far left) Jing Tian, Matt Damon, Andy Lau and Eddie Peng, was engineered to appeal to audiences in North America.
The Great Wall, starring (from far left) Jing Tian, Matt Damon, Andy Lau and Eddie Peng, was engineered to appeal to audiences in North America.PHOTO: UNITED INTERNATIONAL PICTURES

LOS ANGELES • In an embarrassment for Dalian Wanda Group, the Chinese conglomerate determined to become a global film super-power, its first mega-budget production, The Great Wall, fizzled in North American release over the weekend.

Costing at least US$150 million (S$231 million) to make and tens of millions more to market, The Great Wall arrived to an estimated US$18 million in ticket sales in the United States and Canada, according to comScore, which compiles box office data.

Perhaps worse, given that Mr Wang Jianlin, Wanda's chairman, told US movie executives in an October speech that they needed to "improve the quality" of their films, The Great Wall received largely negative reviews; several of the positive notices called the film too bizarre to miss.

The Great Wall is not a worldwide failure. Starring Matt Damon as a European mercenary, who becomes ensnared in a large-scale effort to protect China from razor-toothed monsters, it has collected a total of US$245 million overseas.

The problem is that the film, directed by Zhang Yimou, was held up as not just escapist entertainment, but also proof that China can serve up international blockbusters - that event films can rise in the East and play in the West.

Although filmed entirely in China, The Great Wall was engineered to appeal to audiences in North America, which remains the world's largest box-office market. In addition to the casting of Damon, the film's dialogue is mostly in English.

Wanda seemed to see its struggles coming. Last month, Mr Thomas Tull, the film executive most tightly linked to The Great Wall, resigned as chief executive of Legendary Entertainment, which Wanda bought a year ago for US$3.5 billion.

Mr Tull, a Great Wall producer, also led the charge for another Legendary misfire, Warcraft, which was released six months after Wanda's acquisition.

At the time of his departure, Wanda denied that the executive shuffling was related to the performance of The Great Wall, which was released late last year in China, where it took about US$171 million - a strong total, but US$29 million less than the threshold producers had given as the minimum the film needed to reach to be considered a success, given its cost.

Legendary and Wanda declined to comment on Sunday.

For the weekend, The Lego Batman Movie (Warner Bros) was again No. 1, taking in roughly US$34.2 million for a worldwide total of US$170.8 million.

Another holdover, Fifty Shades Darker (Universal), was second, with about US$21 million for a worldwide total of US$276.9 million. The Great Wall was third.

Also of note: A Cure For Wellness, a thriller directed by Gore Verbinski, arrived as an outright bomb, taking in US$4.2 million.

The film cost New Regency about US$40 million to make and was distributed by 20th Century Fox, which created fake news sites involving US President Donald Trump and mental health to promote it. Fox subsequently called the fake news campaign a "mistake" and apologised.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2017, with the headline 'The Great Wall bombs at N. American box office'. Print Edition | Subscribe