The scene was set last weekend, when Demon Slayer took $44 million in three days, breaking the country’s all-time opening record. This monstrous success reflects the popularity of the franchise, which is about a boy who fights demons in early-20th-century Japan. But it also speaks to Japanese audiences’ growing confidence in the safety of their theaters, which can now operate at full capacity (as long as they don’t sell food).
Another rebounding box office is China’s, where cinemas are generally open and functioning at 75% capacity. The country is poised to overtake North America as this year’s biggest film exhibition market. The top film this weekend was Sacrifice, a patriotic Korean War drama, which took $53 million in three days.
All of which throws Over the Moon’s disastrous debut into relief. Netflix’s third original animated feature took a mere $582,000 in its first three days in the country, despite receiving as many as 11,000 screenings on Saturday (according to Variety). China, where Netflix doesn’t operate, is the only market where the film is receiving a full theatrical release.
Over the Moon is the feature directorial debut of Glen Keane, the Disney veteran who went on to win an Oscar for the short film Dear Basketball. More to the point, it is a co-production between Netflix and Shanghai’s Pearl Studio, which developed the concept: a spin on the Chinese legend of the moon deity Chang’e.
What was once Oriental Dreamworks rebranded itself as Pearl Studio in 2018, becoming fully Chinese-owned in the process. At the time, chief creative officer Peilin Chou told us, “One of the great advantages of being a Chinese company is that we have roots on the ground in China, which gives us unique insight and a deeper understanding of the market.”
In our own review, we noted that the film tries — and doesn’t always manage — to balance a Hollywood sensibility with fidelity to Chinese culture. Another recent film that tried to do that, Disney’s Mulan remake, also underperformed in China, but that film nevertheless managed to earn $40 million.
The performance of Over the Moon raises a lot of questions. When a quality production like this launches with an incomprehensibly low figure, one has to believe that there’s an untold story happening behind the scenes, which is always a possibility in the secretive world of Chinese business affairs. Variety noted that the film came out three weeks after the mid-autumn festival — curious timing, considering that the festival is central to the Chang’e legend. It’s also interesting to note that the film has gone down relatively well with the few people in China who saw it, scoring 8.2 on ticketing platform Maoyan and 7.0 on reviews site Douban.
Over the Moon is now available on Netflix in North America. The Demon Slayer movie will be released in the U.S. and Canada by Funimation and Aniplex of America early next year.