LOS ANGELES — In an embarrassment for Dalian Wanda Group, the Chinese conglomerate determined to become a global film superpower, its first mega-budget production, “The Great Wall,” fizzled in North American release over the weekend.
Costing at least $150 million to make and tens of millions more to market, “The Great Wall” arrived to an estimated $18 million in ticket sales in the United States and Canada, according to comScore, which compiles box office data. Perhaps worse, given that Wang Jianlin, Wanda’s chairman, told U.S. movie executives in an October speech that they needed to “improve the quality” of their films, “The Great Wall” received largely negative reviews; several of the positive notices called the film too bizarre to miss.
“The Great Wall” is not a worldwide failure. Starring Matt Damon as a European mercenary who becomes ensnared in a large-scale effort to protect China from razor-toothed monsters, it has collected a total of $245 million overseas.
The problem is that the film, directed by Zhang Yimou (“House of Flying Daggers”), was held up as not just escapist entertainment but also as proof that China can serve up international blockbusters — that event films can rise in the East and play in the West. Although filmed entirely in China, “The Great Wall” was engineered to appeal to audiences in North America, which remains the world’s largest box office market. In addition to the casting of Damon, the film’s dialogue is mostly in English.
Wanda seemed to see its struggles coming. Last month Thomas Tull, the film executive most tightly linked to “The Great Wall,” resigned as chief executive of Legendary Entertainment, which Wanda bought a year ago for $3.5 billion. Tull, a “Great Wall” producer, also led the charge for another Legendary misfire, “Warcraft,” which was released six months after Wanda’s acquisition.
At the time of Tull’s departure, Wanda denied that the executive shuffling was related to the performance of “The Great Wall,” which was released late last year in China, where it took about $171 million — a strong total, but $29 million less than the threshold producers had given as the minimum amount the film needed to reach to be considered a success, given its cost. “To say that it is a failure is pure imagination,” Wanda said in a statement in January. “It hasn’t even opened in North America yet.”
Legendary and Wanda declined to comment on Sunday.
For the weekend, “The Lego Batman Movie” (Warner Bros.) was again the No. 1 film, taking in roughly $34.2 million, for a two-week total of $98.8 million. Another holdover, “Fifty Shades Darker” (Universal) was second, with ticket sales of about $21 million, for a two-week total of $89.7 million. “The Great Wall” was third.
Also of note: “A Cure for Wellness,” a thriller directed by Gore Verbinski, arrived as an outright bomb, taking in $4.2 million. The film cost New Regency about $40 million to make and was distributed by 20th Century Fox, which created fake news sites involving President Donald Trump and mental health to promote it. Fox subsequently called the fake news campaign a “mistake” and apologized.