“Dune” Rakes in $22.7M at China Box Office Amid Mixed Reception

Billed by some as the next “Lord of the Rings” and by others as “Star Wars” for adults, “Dune” hasn’t exactly been a smash hit in China

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Matthew Bossons
3:06 AM HKT, Tue October 26, 2021 2 mins read

Chinese audiences aren’t quite as passionate about Denis Villeneuve’s Dune as Western audiences, if box office revenue and audience reviews are any indication. Based on American author Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel of the same name, the sci-fi epic hit Chinese theaters on October 22 — the same day as Canada and the US.

Over the weekend, the film brought in 40.1 million USD at the North American box office and 180.6 million USD internationally. As of today, China’s cinemas are responsible for contributing 22.7 million USD to the film’s total take, according to Chinese ticketing platform Maoyan.

Dune’s China debut falls well below the whopping 137 million USD that F9 generated in China on its opening weekend back in May, and the 70.5 million USD raked in by Godzilla Vs. Kong in March.

The space opera currently sits in second at the Chinese box office, behind the ultra-popular domestically made Korean War film The Battle At Lake Changjin, which brought in more than 203 million USD on its opening weekend and has grossed 769 million USD since hitting theaters on September 30.

Revenue aside, Chinese audiences seem slightly less taken with the film than audiences elsewhere. On the Chinese social network Douban, Dune currently holds an audience rating of 7.9/10, notably lower than the movie’s current 91% audience score on American review-aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes. IMDb users have given Dune a rating of 8.3/10.

That said, 7.9 is a good score and the film’s Douban rating surpasses F9 (5.2) and Free Guy (7.6). Although, interestingly, the Douban scores for F9 and Free Guy are more in line with the audience scores on Rotten Tomatoes, at 59% and 80%, respectively.

Jason Momoa

Jason Momoa in Dune

So, what’s with the disconnect between Chinese and Western audiences in regards to Dune?

The significant criticisms of Dune by Chinese audience members seem to run the gambit, relating to the film’s plot, characters, setting, and narrative. Some netizens think that the story is too straightforward, plain, and without a climax, while others have criticized the settings as “too old-fashioned.”

On Douban, user @代码科学 gave the film a one-star rating and commented, “This is just bullshit, they still use cold weapons to fight in such a so-called high-level civilization.”

Another user, @爱做梦的女孩儿, rated the movie two stars and commented that “filmmakers told a 10-minute story in a 150-minute way.”

Speaking on Dune’s opening weekend earnings in comparison to F9 and Godzilla Vs. Kong, Beijing-based film critic Xu Fan tells RADII that simpler stories are easier to understand and that Chinese audiences are less familiar with Dune’s source material.

“Chinese audiences were expecting to see a typical Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster — which is supposed to be visually arresting, narrated in an epic scope and unfold at a fast pace to make you sit on the edge of your seat. But Dune is unusual. It goes slowly, and it intentionally reduces or weakens climaxes,” says Xu, “So it’s hard to appeal to Chinese moviegoers.”

As the movie’s Douban score suggests, though, not everyone on the Chinese internet had a negative view of the film.

One of the most popular comments on Douban comes from user @陀螺凡达可 and reads, “The movie is like if Star Wars was filmed in the same way as Blade Runner 2049.” The user also praised the movie’s visuals, audio, and editing.

Another Douban user, @爱心收集者, compared the film to a trailer but ultimately praised it, writing, “I just spent two and a half hours watching a trailer for the film, but it was so, so, so good.”

Sharon Duncan-Brewster in Dune

Sharon Duncan-Brewster in Dune

While Dune seems to be enjoying a more positive reception among Western audiences, not everyone overseas is a fan.

The film currently holds 83% critical approval on Rotten Tomatoes, but some American critics have put the film on blast for many of the same reasons as Chinese netizens (see Richard Brody’s review in the The New Yorker for reference).

Regardless of how Dune concludes its theatrical run in China (it will soon face stiff competition from No Time to Die), its creators can at least take solace in surpassing the abysmal 12 million USD grossed by Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on its opening weekend in China.

Additional reporting by Wang Junjie

All images via IMDb

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