Disney/Pixar’s coming of age sea monster story Luca has been granted a theatrical release date on Aug. 20, which will make it the first Hollywood studio release in the country in over two and a half months.
China’s film regulators have been instituting a longer-than-usual blackout on major foreign film releases in deference to the celebrations surrounding this summer’s 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. The last U.S. film to release in China was Sony’s Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway way back on June 11.
With the North American box office still ailing due to the pandemic and simultaneous streaming releases, the lost potential China earnings caused by the lengthy blackout have been a significant drain on several studio tentpoles’ bottom lines. Major pictures still awaiting a run at Chinese screens include Disney/Marvel’s Black Widow, Warner Bros’ Space Jam: A New Legacy and Disney’s Jungle Cruise, as well as upcoming titles like Warner’s Reminiscence, Legendary’s Dune and Disney’s Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings.
Typically, there’s some pent-up market demand for Hollywood movie magic following the summer blackout, but Luca will have several factors working against it when it unfurls on Chinese screens — despite scoring strong reviews from international critics. The last-minute dating leaves Disney with just over a week to market the movie across the Middle Kingdom, and a recent spat of Delta variant outbreaks has shuttered approximately 30 percent of the country’s cinemas.
The movie also has been widely available on Chinese piracy networks since Disney released it over Disney+ in June. The film was created for a typical Pixar theatrical rollout but the studio pivoted to premium VOD in response to the pandemic and strategic priorities to bolster its direct-to-consumer business. Luca easily topped the list of the top 10 most watched movies for the week of June 14-20 on streaming, according to Nielsen’s latest ratings, with a huge 1.57 billion minutes of viewing time. The family film also released theatrically in non-Disney+ markets in mid-June and has grossed $30M to date.
Luca is the feature directorial debut of Enrico Casarosa, who was Oscar-nominated for his Italy-set Pixar short La Luna. The film follows two teenage sea monsters — Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) — who have an adventure when they venture out of the Mediterranean sea and into a village, where they take human form.
The Hollywood Reporter‘s critic said the film’s “Mediterranean flavor and disarming lessons about the value of friendship and acceptance provide fresh charms, while the breathtaking beauty of the film’s environments both underwater and above the surface brings additional rewards.”