Chinese film-goers love Aamir Khan but give Star Wars the snub

Actor Aamir Khan speaks during a news conference to promote his film Secret Superstar in Singapore, on Oct 2, 2017.
Actor Aamir Khan speaks during a news conference to promote his film Secret Superstar in Singapore, on Oct 2, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

SHANGHAI (Bloomberg) - Bollywood is speaking to Chinese film-goers with a Hindi-language hit that is outdrawing Star Wars in a market that Hollywood has staked out for making big-budget blockbusters pay.

Secret Superstar, the tale of a 14-year-old Muslim-Indian girl who strives to become a singer, has topped China's box office since its local release on Jan 19, surpassing sales for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

The second straight hit in China for Bollywood actor-producer Aamir Khan, Secret Superstar underscores how quickly the world's second-biggest film market is evolving from franchise fare like Fast & Furious instalments to a taste for films from all around the world.

Based on results from the past 12 months alone, hits from India, Thailand and Spain show China's box-office may already be less blockbuster-centric than America's.

Khan's Dangal drew US$193 million (S$252 million) in China last year, according to Boxofficemojo.com. By comparison, the biggest take for a foreign-language film ever in the North American market was US$128 million for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon almost two decades ago.

Thailand's Bad Genius, about two poor but brilliant students who make a living helping rich kids cheat on standardised tests, generated US$41 million in 2017 - 13 times its Thailand sales.

Spanish-language thriller Contratiempo (The Invisible Guest) grossed US$26 million in the mainland in 2017, sixfold more than at home.

Those respective Chinese grosses would be enough to rank among the all-time top 10 for foreign-language releases for North America, where only three films have ever exceeded US$50 million.

There is still no magic formula for success in Chinese theatres.

Two tales from Hollywood's Fast & Furious series rank among the country's top five earners in history. But some Star Wars tales have been lacklustre.

Pixar's animated Coco scored about US$190 million in China last year, almost matching its North America sales, while Walt Disney's Cars 3 barely reached US$20 million, compared with more than US$150 million in the US.