Today Dangal reached another milestone in its incredible China story by knocking off one more film on that country’s all-time highest grossing films list. It now stands at 15th place among among all the films ever released in the territory, with a PRC total of nearly $188 million.
This time the movie Dangal subjugated is Lost in Thailand, a picture that holds a special place in Chinese box office history. When it released back in 2012, the broad buddy comedy eviscerated every standing box office record in the country except for the monumental total of Avatar, which at 1.34 billion RMB (US$208 million) remained, for the time being, insurmountable.
But Lost In Thailand’s role was less about numbers and more about cultural perceptions. For decades it had been commonly held that China would never be a major cinema-going country. That going out to the movies simply wasn’t part of the culture. More than conventional wisdom, China’s seeming aversion to the movie-going experience was widely regarded by cinema professionals on both sides of the Pacific as fact.
For my part, I never did believe that Chinese people weren’t like people everywhere else; I was sure they’d enjoy going out to the cinema for a good comedy, a good drama, or a good action spectacle just as much as Americans, Germans, French, Koreans, and Brazilians do. It was just a matter of time.
Of course the conventional wisdom was wrong. The thing that had held Chinese audiences back was that they lacked movie theaters. And by 2010, with over 6,000 screens in the PRC and an average of 8 new ones being added every day, moviegoers had proved China to be a powerhouse, the fastest growing and second most important movie-going nation in history
ost in Thailand also established the journeyman actor Huang Bo as a superstar. He charmed audiences with his screen magnetism, and went on to topline such subsequent blockbuster hits as Breakup Buddies (now ranked 23rd on China's highest-grossing movies list), Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (now ranked 18th) and Mojin: The Lost Legend (ranked 7th).
Avatar stands just ahead of Dangal, with about $10 million more in lifetime China grosses. Dangal has two more weeks in its China run to close the gap, but with its daily grosses now averaging less than $500,000 per day, and with Transformers: The Last Knight about to commandeer many of its screens, the odds are that Dangal will remain on its current rung, at least until Transformers displaces it.