How The Rock’s popularity in China led ‘Skyscraper’ to rebound and become the global box-office winner of the weekend

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“Skyscraper.”
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Universal

  • After a soft opening in North America last weekend, Dwayne Johnson’s “Skyscraper” rebounded big time in its second weekend in theaters.
  • It was the highest-grossing movie in the world over the weekend, with a global box-office take of $85 million.
  • A big reason for that is its performance in China.

It looks as if you can table all of the “Rock fatigue” chatter.

After Dwayne Johnson’s latest movie, “Skyscraper,” opened domestically last weekend with a very soft $24.9 million on more than 3,700 screens, the trades were quick to attribute the worst opening for The Rock in three years to overexposure of the larger-than-life superstar.

But many seemed to forget one thing: The movie hadn’t opened in China yet.

In the past few years, Johnson has put extra time into ensuring that his brand is prevalent in the Middle Kingdom, and Universal/Legendary Entertainment, the backers of “Skyscraper,” are now reaping the rewards.

“Skyscraper” opened in China over the weekend and was the top movie, with a $48.4 million opening. The movie became the top-earning title of the weekend worldwide, with a box-office take surpassing $86 million (it earned $11 million in North America and $27.3 million in other international territories).

For the most part, it’s a moral victory for Johnson. With a slew of popular holdovers in theaters and stiff competition coming this weekend from “Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” “Skyscraper” will not have much time on the mountaintop. But what this weekend did prove was why Johnson is the biggest – and most savvy – movie star working right now.

Doubling down on the China market

The performance of “Skyscraper” in China wasn’t attributed only to the fact that posters of Johnson, hanging from a very large building, appeared all over the place. Like “Rampage,” when the actor flew to Shanghai to promote the movie (and helped it earn over $150 million in its China run), Johnson was back hustling in China for his latest movie.

This time he went to Beijing and Hong Kong, where the movie is set, to get the word out about “Skyscraper.”

But that was not the only play The Rock had this time around.

Along with Johnson’s tireless promotion, the movie also had a rare summer release in China for an American-produced project. This time of year, Beijing often puts a blackout on foreign releases, but “Skyscraper” slipped in thanks to its being cofinanced by Legendary Entertainment, which is owned by the Chinese conglomerate Wanda.

That meant that at a time of year when the fastest-growing movie market typically doesn’t get huge American stars on the big screen, suddenly The Rock was front and center.

A movie designed to do well in China

Another thing working in the favor of “Skyscraper” was that, from the beginning, it was made for the China market.

The film’s director, Rawson Marshall Thurber, told Business Insider that even before he pitched the idea of the movie to Johnson, he wanted it to be set in Hong Kong. That was mainly because it’s one of the few places that could believably house the world’s tallest skyscraper.

Thurber was also aware of that region’s appetite for cinema.

“The Middle Kingdom is massive and only growing, so it’s certainly not by accident that we set the film in Hong Kong,” Thurber said.

The director also made sure to cast a recognizable actor to Chinese audiences playing across from Johnson. The veteran Asian star Chin Han played the role of the man behind the creation of the skyscraper in the movie, and by the end he’s fighting alongside Johnson against the bad guys who have taken it over.

“I wanted to make a movie that felt authentic to a place, that felt authentic to Hong Kong, that the Chinese people would embrace,” Thurber said.

With “Skyscraper” now grossing more than $179 million worldwide, it’s no longer a doom-and-gloom scenario when it comes to Johnson’s ability to carry a movie. And for studios, this weekend also probably reassured them that if a movie from The Rock doesn’t connect stateside, it can always rely on China.