"Pacific Rim" hits China on Wednesday, a watershed territory for Guillermo del Toro's monsters-and-giant robots epic.
Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures' 3D spectacular is at $84 million after three weeks domestically and may or may not clank its way to $100 million. But international was always seen as most important for the $180 million "Pacific Rim," and China the most significant foreign market.
"Pacific Rim" has taken in $140 million abroad already. If it's able to hit $50 million there, and build on that in Japan and Brazil, it could well hit $300 million in foreign grosses.
"That may or may not mean there'd be a sequel, but at least there'd be a discussion," BoxOffice.com editor-in-chief Phil Contrino told TheWrap.
China has a history with colossal clanking contraptions: "Transformers 4: Dark of the Moon" is one of the all-time box office hits there, taking in $145 million in 2011.
"You'd think 'Pacific Rim' will be able to do a third of that," Contrino said. "The concerns would be the lag time between the U.S. opening, which makes it vulnerable to piracy, and 'Fast and Furious 6.'"
This past weekend, Universal's cars-and-criminals turned China, its last foreign territory, into a record-breaking victory lap with a $24 million, the studio's best ever in that market. That should a little bit of the sting out of the recent decision by Chinese film officials not to grant a slot to the minions of "Despicable Me 2" for Universal.
"Pacific Rim" has plenty of elements that should appeal to Chinese moviegoers.
It prominently features key Chinese characters who pilot Crimson Typhoon (pictured above), one of the film's nastiest robots. The final battle takes place in Hong Kong.
"Pacific Rim" has shown strength in the Asian markets in which it's played, already bagging $17 million from Korea and nearly $9 million from Taiwan, and is off to a fast star in Hong Kong.
"Transformers 4" played to a vastly different Chinese market, even though it was just two years ago. It's much bigger, but the competition is far more intense, particularly from domestic offerings. Though China's film market has continued to grow more than 35 percent through the first half of 2013, revenue from imported films has shrunk by 21.3 percent, according to data by China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television.
And given the market's growing pains, there are no sure things for American-made movies at the box office in China.
Universal's "Les Miserables," for example, struggled to crack $10 million in China earlier this year. And this week it will be passed on the box office charts by the Chinese comedy "Mr. Go," about a baseball-playing gorilla.
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