The Lego Batman Movie is #1 in the U.S. for the second straight weekend, but that’s not the big story.
Instead, eyes are on The Great Wall a Zhang Yimou-directed blockbuster starring Matt Damon which opened at #3 domestically, with an estimated $18.1 million at the box office. It’s an underwhelming start for a movie said to be budgeted at $150 million, but U.S. ticket sales present an incomplete picture.
The Great Wall is already an international hit. It’s amassed more than $170 million in China since it opened on Dec. 16, and its total non-U.S. gross which, as of this weekend, includes 21 additional markets amounts to an estimated $244.6 million.
That success is all the more noteworthy in the context of an ongoing debate around whitewashing in Hollywood. The Great Wall has been held up alongside Doctor Strange and Ghost in the Shell, two U.S. productions that cast white actors in the role of characters that were originally conceived as Asian.
That’s not quite the same as what’s going on in The Great Wall, however. For one, it’s a co-production between the U.S. and China (the other two are pure Hollywood). Also, Damon’s role was written from the outset as a European character, though critics still take issue with the fact that he’s a “white savior” figure within the movie.
There’s not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer here
The Great Wall‘s overseas success doesn’t torpedo the whitewashing debate. It does, however, illuminate the complexity of an issue that is often reduced to simplified black-and-white terms. Is it still whitewashing, for example, if the film is a co-produced by China and helmed by a legendary Chinese director?
There’s not a “yes” or “no” answer here; it’s merely something to think about. If the $170 million success story in China is proof of anything, it’s that there are merits to telling a story with international appeal.
As for why it didn’t land in the U.S., the critical reception (in English-language reviews, at least) might tell part of the story. The Great Wall was panned for its lack of substance; it’s a pretty blockbuster, critics say, but not a thought-provoking one. Typically, the only big-money blockbusters of little substance that land with U.S. audiences come with an established brand attached, like Transformers or DC Comics movies such as Batman v Superman.
To put it another way: The Great Wall was built, first, for a Chinese audience. Hollywood is rife with examples of whitewashing, but this movie doesn’t neatly fit in that category. Back when the movie was announced, some Chinese social media users didn’t seem too concerned about the issue.
Ultimately, however, it fell two spots behind The Lego Batman Movie in weekend earnings. The family-friendly superhero comedy delivered a strong second weekend, earning an estimated $34.2 million at the domestic box office. That number is all the more impressive when you account for the unusually low 35 percent drop-off in ticket sales from its opening week.
It’s not quite as strong as The Lego Movie, which opened in February 2014 with $69.1 million and then dropped down to $49.8 million a 27.8 percent dip in its second weekend. But that fits with the marginally narrower audience a Batman-centric Lego movie would speak to.
Fifty Shades Darker and John Wick: Chapter Two slide in around The Great Wall at #2 and #4, respectively. Take out the Damon blockbuster, and it’s a repeat of last week’s lineup, when the other three movies were just opening.
The story is much the same now as then. Fifty Shades continues to underperform compared to its predecessor, which had grossed $129.1 million by the end of its second weekend in 2015, as compared to Darker‘s $89.1 million cumulative gross now.
That said, more people are sticking around for the sequel. Darker‘s second weekend take of $21 million represents a 55 percent drop from the opening weekend. Compare that to Grey, which dipped an exceedingly high 73.9 percent over its first two weekends.
The opposite is true for Wick. The original finished its domestic run with $43 million, earning more than half of that $27.5 million over its first two weeks. Chapter Two is already well beyond that mark, with its second weekend estimate of $16.5 million contributing to a cumulative gross of $58.7 million.