All the talk this week about Deadpool’s excellent opening weekend in North America and around the world might have you fooled into thinking that it was the biggest thing happening on the global movie scene.

It wasn’t. Not by a long shot.

Deadpool set records this past weekend for an R-rated movie debut, with a $135 million 3-day total in North America and $125 million more overseas.

But of far greater magnitude was the week China just had. That country’s moviegoers smashed every previous record for weekly movie ticket sales in a single territory.

Mermaid-Deadpool

Image credits: Union Pictures for ‘The Mermaid’; Marvel Studios for ‘Deadpool’.

Led by the extraordinary box office rocket-ride that is Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid, the People’s Republic of China rang up $548 million in theatrical revenues in the 7 days ending Sunday, February 14th. That total shatters the record set scarcely six weeks ago in North America, when the $261 million earned by Star Wars: The Force Awakens led the combined U.S.-Canada territory’s December 26 to January 1 week to a $529.6 million aggregate.

Top 3 Box Office Weeks in History

Image credit: Pacific Bridge Pictures analysis

The Mermaid closed out the Chinese New Year-to-Valentine’s Day frame with an opening week total of $274 million. That, combined with the $119 million taken in by The Man From Macau 3, the $116 million earned by the Monkey King 2, and $38 million more from a pair of Valentine’s Day openers and holdover Kung Fu Panda 3, helped China to nearly double its previous weekly record of $283 million. That prior record was set last July when Monster HuntPancake Man, and The Monkey King: Hero is Back, combined for a then unimaginable $253 million between them in their first week.

Of course, what is unimaginable one month in China often becomes routine a few months later. And so it is with Mermaid, which now is on course not only to exceed Monster Hunt‘s $391 million PRC record, but which also appears likely to become the first Chinese film to reach the $500 million revenue threshold.

There are 3 main reasons why the past week has been such a bonanza for China’s movie theaters:

    1. Screen count. China now has 33,000 movie screens (more than triple its total of just five years ago). Although that’s still nearly 25% fewer than North America’s 43,000 screens, it’s enough for the cinema business there to challenge North America’s records during heavy attendance periods.
    2. Holiday timing. The record-breaking week started on an official holiday, Chinese New Year’s Day, and ended on an unofficial holiday, Valentine’s Day. Those two days proved to be the biggest and second-biggest single movie-going days in China’s history, and the days in between were all vacation days in China that saw average daily grosses of more than $70 million.
    3. Stephen Chow. 53 year-old Hong Kong-born Chow is China’s most beloved filmmaker, and when his inventive and broadly comedic films arrive, moviegoers go wild for them. It’s hardly a surprise that The Mermaid is setting new records, but the magnitude of its’ success has caught many box office watchers off guard.

Monday sees most adults head back to work after their week-long holiday, but students will have 7 more days of freedom, so you can bet this will be another big week ahead at mainland Chinese multiplexes.