Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened Saturday in China, where it is far from certain to draw in enough movie-goers to knock off Avatar as the world's all-time biggest grossing movie. The seventh Star Wars movie is the highest ever grossing film in the North American market, where it was released three weeks ago. But internationally, it still has a long way to go to beat James Cameron's science-fiction movie with blue aliens. The international box office of Force Awakens stands at $1.6 billion, compared to the $2.8 billion Avatar made in 2009. Richard Huang, an analyst at Nomura Securities, expects the movie to roughly match the $229 million in Chinese box-office sales that Jurassic World generated last year.
Not that many Chinese are familiar with Star Wars. The franchise's three prequel films released from 1999 to 2005 were shown in China, but at a time when there were much fewer screens in the country. And when the first movie came out in 1977, "Mao had just died a year earlier," NPR's Frank Langfitt says. "The Cultural Revolution had just ended here." But Disney has been doing a lot of promotion. "Recently, they put about 500 models of Star Wars stormtroopers on the Great Wall," Langfitt says. "They've even got a guy named Lu Han—he's sort of a Chinese version of kind of an early Justin Bieber. He's actually working as an ambassador to kind of promote the movie with people here." (The makers of this Chinese Force Awakens poster were accused of racism.)