Could James Wan‘s Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom snap the Hollywood studios’ box-office losing streak in China? Film buffs and analysts will soon find out. The Warner Bros. and DC Studios superhero sequel has been set for release on Dec. 20, two days before it opens in North America, according to mainland Chinese news sites on Tuesday.
The original Aquaman (2018), starring Jason Momoa in the title role, became a phenomenon in China, opening to $93 million and eventually totaling $291.8 million. The film still stands as the highest-grossing DC movie of all time, with $1.148 billion at the global box office. But U.S. franchise films — and superhero sequels in particular — have been on the wane in China since the pandemic. Two weekends ago, Disney’s The Marvels opened in second place with just $11.5 million, an all-time low for an MCU opening weekend in China. Earlier this year, DC’s Shazam! Fury of the Gods and The Flash both underperformed, earning just $6 million and $25.9 million, respectively, in China — fractions of what even the most disappointing U.S. superhero titles typically earned in the country several years ago.
Aquaman 2 will benefit from the recent resolution of the SAG-AFTRA strike, which will allow its stars to walk the red carpet and make the usual promotional rounds. Warners has not yet announced any plans for Wan, Momoa and others to visit China, though. Both Momoa and Amber Heard touched down in Beijing for the local premiere of Aquaman in 2018. Some analysts within the Chinese industry have said the studios’ lack of focused local marketing campaigns in the post-pandemic period is partly responsible for the diminished earnings in the country. Christopher Nolan is the only major Hollywood figure to have visited Beijing on a promotional tour since the pandemic — and Oppenheimer is one of the few U.S. box office surprises in the country this year. The film earned $62 million, Nolan’s second-best China performance to date behind Interstellar ($122 million) — and an unprecedented showing for a 3-hour English-language historical drama.
It has been a long road to the multiplex for The Lost Kingdom. Like many films made in the COVID-19 era, the film’s release date was pushed multiple times. At one point, it was going to open in North America in December 2022. That changed to March 2023, before being pushed to Christmas 2023. The film also spanned three regimes at Warner Bros. and underwent a series of reshoots.
Wan’s box office record in China is phenomenal, though. His installments in The Fast and The Furious franchise are among the biggest U.S. box-office hits ever in the country. Furious 7 (2015) earned $390.9 million and The Fate of the Furious (2017) took in $$392.8 million.
The Lost Kingdom, which reunites Momoa’s hero with Patrick Wilson’s Orm Marius and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Black Manta, is the final film taking place in the DCEU that began a decade ago with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013). After Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, executives James Gunn and Peter Safran will launch their own universe, beginning with Superman: Legacy, which is dated for July 2025.