Anime sensation The First Slam Dunk dominated the competition at China’s theatrical box office over the weekend, racking up a four-day opening win worth $56 million. Jackie Chan’s holdover action comedy Ride On came in second with just $3.5 million, while Universal’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie brought in $2 million for a distant fourth place.
The First Slam Dunk, which is produced by Japan’s Toei Animation but jointly distributed in China by China Film Co. and Road Pictures, made the unconventional choice of launching on Thursday, but the gambit payed off as the film generated rave word of mouth and made a strong early splash of $13 million on the weekday. The film has received wild acclaim across China’s major movie rating platforms, including a stellar 9.2 from fan community Douban and 9.4 on ticketing apps Maoyan and Taopiaopiao. It’s expected to clear $100 million before its China run is complete.
The First Slam Dunk is an adaptation of a classic Japanese manga series by Inoue Takehiko, who also wrote and directed the new film. An earlier animated TV series adaptation released in the 1990s became a major hit in China. The new film appears to be trading on the nostalgia of the generation of viewers who fell in love with that show, as well as the continued, widespread popularity of basketball across China. The movie artfully blends thrilling basketball gameplay with a heartfelt story of growing up and giving the game all you’ve got.
The First Slam Dunk continues a trend of strong performances by Japanese anime at China’s multiplexes. Mokoto Shinkai’s anime fantasy Suzume has earned about $110 million in the country since its release in late March.
The First Slam Dunk has been a smash hit virtually everywhere it’s been released, so far. The film earned about $100 million at home in Japan and $35.5 million in South Korea. In Japan, it’s the biggest film of 2023, and in Korea it currently ranks number two for the year. Toei is said to be eying U.K. and North American releases, but dates are still to be set.
Hollywood studio films recently have failed to match the earnings of anime in the Middle Kingdom. Universal’s Super Mario Bros has earned nearly $20 million of its $872 million global total in China, while Disney/Marvel’s Ant-Man 3 took in only $39 million (compared to more than $100 million for each of its franchise predecessors).
China’s upcoming Labor Day holiday period, running April 29 to May 3, will be dominated by local Chinese tentpoles, including the much anticipated Top Gun-like action epic Born to Fly, family road movie Godspeed and disaster flick Flash Over.
Hollywood will be back in the market on May 5 with Guardians of the Galaxy 3, followed by local franchise favorite Fast X on May 17 and Warner Bros.’ long-coming DC superhero entry, The Flash, on June 16.