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Is China's Star Wars force strong enough to break record?

Published 09/01/2016

Producer Kathleen Kennedy, director JJ Abrams, actress Daisy Ridley and actor John Boyega with BB-8 and R2-D2 at a press conference in Shanghai (AP)
Producer Kathleen Kennedy, director JJ Abrams, actress Daisy Ridley and actor John Boyega with BB-8 and R2-D2 at a press conference in Shanghai (AP)

The record-breaking new Star Wars film opened today in China, with its makers hoping it will draw in enough customers to surpass Avatar as the world's all-time biggest grossing movie.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the highest grossing film in the North American market, where it was released three weeks ago.

But internationally, it still has a long way to go to beat Avatar, James Cameron's science-fiction film with blue aliens.

The international box office of the latest in the Star Wars franchise stands at 1.6 billion dollars (£1.1 billion), compared to the 2.8 billion dollars (£1.93 billion) Avatar made in 2009.

Richard Huang, an analyst at Nomura Securities, expects the film roughly to match the 229 million dollars (£158 million) in Chinese box-office sales that Jurassic World generated last year.

Not many Chinese people are familiar with Star Wars. The franchise's three prequel films released from 1999 to 2005 were shown, but at a time when there were many fewer screens in the country.

Promotional events organised by Disney in the months leading up to the release included the placing of 500 Stormtrooper figures on the steps of the Great Wall and the illumination of the film's Chinese title on the guard towers for a light show in October.

It enlisted the marketing power of actor and singer Lu Han, who appeared in promotional videos and released a music video called The Inner Force with images from the film.

In an overt bid to appeal to Chinese audiences, in the next Star Wars film, Rogue One, bosses have cast Hong Kong martial arts actor Donnie Yen and Chinese actor and director Jiang Wen in it.

China is expected to surpass the US as the world's largest film market as soon as next year, and Hollywood is casting Chinese actors and incorporating Chinese elements to appeal to the massive audience.

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