‘Avatar’ races to $4.8M opening day in China

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HONG KONG (AP) — Already a global hit, James Cameron’s “Avatar” raced to a $4.8 million first day in populous China, with a publicist predicting the sci-fi blockbuster will set a new Chinese box office record.

“Avatar” raked in 33.03 million Chinese yuan ($4.8 million) on Monday, in a 3-D, 2-D and IMAX joint release, Weng Li, spokesman for state-run film importer China Film Group told The Associated Press in a phone interview on Wednesday.

Weng called the result a strong showing but wasn’t sure if it was a first-day record. The modern benchmark for a hit in China is 100 million yuan ($14.6 million), and “Avatar” is on track to easily pass that mark in several days.

But the publicist said the story of aliens on a foreign planet fending off American colonizers is set for even greater box office heights, predicting it will break the all-time box office record recently set by another Hollywood production, “2012.” That disaster film had made 460 million yuan ($67.3 million) as of Dec. 23.

Weng said “Avatar” could make 500 million yuan ($73.2 million).

“I think it has very good momentum. I think it should break the ‘2012’ record,” he said.

The strong results on Monday came despite heavy snowfall Sunday in the Chinese capital Beijing, a major movie market.

Cameron is already a box office darling in China, with his last movie “Titanic” pulling in a then-unprecedented 360 million yuan in 1998 — a record that stood until last year, when it was broken by “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and “2012.” The Hollywood director also promoted “Avatar” in person in Beijing last month.

Elsewhere in China, in wealthy Hong Kong, a former British colony that maintains a separate political system, “Avatar” has earned 84.8 million Hong Kong dollars ($10.9 million) from Dec. 17 to Tuesday, Adrian Lo, a publicist for the Hong Kong distributor for Hollywood studio 20th Century Fox, said Wednesday.

The movie made more than $1 billion worldwide as of last weekend.

Like in other countries, the box office performance of “Avatar” in China was lifted by more expensive tickets for 3-D movies — although they are relatively cheaper in China, where wages still lag the developed world. Weng said a 2-D ticket costs about 30 to 40 yuan ($4.4 to $6); a 3-D ticket 60 to 80 yuan ($9 to $12) and an IMAX ticket 130 to 150 yuan ($19 to $22).

Chinese box office revenues are still small compared to the U.S., but they are growing rapidly, so Hollywood studios are keen that the Chinese government lifts its restrictions on revenue sharing for film imports. Currently, China Film Group only shares revenues on imports for about 20 films a year and pays flat fees for the other movies.

Government statistics show that revenues surged from 920 million yuan in 2003 to 4.3 billion yuan ($630 million) in 2008 — compared to $9.8 billion in the U.S. in the same year. China had 4,100 movie screens as of the end of 2008.