Lionsgate’s prequel The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes opened at China’s movie box office in third place over the weekend, losing to two holdover local films and earning just $4.6 million. It’s just the latest disappointing performance by a U.S. franchise film in the market.
Songbirds & Snakes has earned low to middling social scores from Chinese audiences, and ticketing app Maoyan projects it will total only about $7 million by the end of its run.
Songbirds & Snakes opens eight years after the last Hunger Games title played in theaters and 12 years after the first film hit the big screen. The previous four Hunger Games films, based on Suzanne Collins’ dystopian YA novels and starring Jennifer Lawrence, all performed considerably better in China than the new title. The Hunger Games (2012) earned a total of $27 million, while The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) took $28 million, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014) brought in $36.5 million, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015) earned $21.5 million.
But Lionsgate’s prequel isn’t the only U.S. franchise tentpole flailing in the large China market. Disney’s The Marvels, after losing its first weekend with a Marvel Cinematic Universe all-time-low opening of $11.5 million, plummeted to sixth place in its second frame, taking in $1.4 million. Maoyan now projects the film, which cost an estimated $200 million to $250 million to make, to top out at around just $15 million (RMB 111 million).
Superhero films have been the most notable under-performers, but U.S. studio franchises across the board have been on the wane in China this year. Universal’s Fast X holds the crown for Hollywood’s biggest film of 2023 in the country, with a $51.1 million opening and $140 million total. And Transformers: Rise of the Beasts opened to $40 million and topped out at $92 million. Early installments in both film series earned vastly more, though, indicating broad franchise erosion for the studios in China.
Chinese crime thriller Who’s the Suspect (aka Last Suspect) came in first for the weekend, winning its third frame in a row. It earned $10.6 million and has a total of $68.1 million so far. The film is directed by Zhang Mo, daughter of Chinese film legend Zhang Yimou. Produced by Beijing Dino Films, the thriller stars actress Zhang Xiaofei as a lawyer who is forced to defend a death-row suspect after her daughter is kidnapped.
Alibaba’s domestic drama, Be My Family, climbed from third to second place, earning $4.8 million for the weekend for a $15.4 million total.
The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is based on Collins’ book of the same name. It opened to $44 million at the domestic North American box office, enough to win the weekend but coming in behind expectations. Rachel Zegler and Tom Blyth lead the cast of the prequel, which also stars Peter Dinklage, Jason Schwartzman and Viola Davis. Francis Lawrence, who helmed three previous Hunger Games movies, returns as director.