From Jaws to Jurassic World, there’s no shortage of animal-themed movies hitting the big screen. But one Dutch filmmaker wants to see a different predator dominate theaters.
If you guessed The Lion King, you’re close (that comes out this summer). Instead of the circle of life, picture a wave of death: a monstrous lion eating its way through Amsterdam, leaving bodies and bloody paw prints in its trail.
The horror film Prey, retitled Violent Fierce Lion (狂暴凶狮 Kuangbao Xiong Shi) for the China market, has unexpectedly clawed its way to the top of the Chinese box office. Released on March 22, the low-budget thriller became the third biggest movie on its opening day — beating out Hollywood blockbusters Bohemian Rhapsody and Captain Marvel — and raked in over 5 million USD by the end of the weekend.
That’s quite an accomplishment, considering the flick was a domestic flop. When Prey hit the Netherlands in October 2016, it was seen by only 30,000 moviegoers and earned a mere 260,000USD.
“It is possible that it was not marketed well enough here,” Director Dick Maas told online Dutch newspaper NU.nl. “People may not understand whether it was a comedy or a horror.”
Sold to Star Alliance by Incredible Film, an Amsterdam-based sales agent, Maas’ lowest grossing movie is now the first-ever Dutch production to play in Chinese cinemas. While the Hong Kong-based distributor initially planned a limited 400-screen theatrical release, they decided the king of the jungle deserved a royal-sized debut, increasing the number to 4,000.
“I said ‘Are you sure?’ Isn’t that a zero too much?’” Danielle Raaphorst, the founder of Incredible, recalled to Screen Daily. “They said, ‘No, it really is 4,000 because there is a huge amount of interest’.”
The popularity of this horror-comedy is apparent on Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter. Over the last week, Prey has gained over 8 million mentions and many positive reviews:
“I didn’t have too many expectations going in, but I was a little surprised (actually, scared). The director created a great atmosphere, the plot was full of energy, and many shots were really scary. It isn’t a completely brainless action movie, very cool!”
“The atmosphere is both relaxed and tense. Watching the funny parts, you can only smile cautiously because you don’t know when the lion will appear. The hunter sitting on the electric wheelchair carrying a gun and the lion face off – all I can say is that the director is very imaginative! There is also a twist at the end. The whole film is very thrilling.”
“Watching Prey almost scared me to death. I was initially worried that I would be the only one scared to the point of screaming, but I realized I was overthinking it. The whole audience was scared and yelling…it wasn’t just me who thought the film was too scary.”
With China poised to become the world’s largest film market, Prey shows that appealing to a Chinese audience could mean a second chance for films that bomb elsewhere.
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