(CNN)Millions of moviegoers watched breathlessly over the Lunar New Year week as Beijing and Shanghai were destroyed for the first time in modern Chinese film history.
It's just one of the reasons China's new sci-fi movie "The Wandering Earth" is taking the nation by storm.
Based on works by novelist Liu Cixin, it tells the story of a group of Chinese astronauts working to save Earth from a dying and rapidly expanding sun. Opening on February 5, the film made about $405 million ($2.7 billion yuan) in just over its first week in China alone -- putting it on track to become the country's most successful film of all time.
Reaction has been startling. "I didn't expect China could make such a large-scale science-fiction film," said one of the top comments on Chinese film review site Douban.com. State-run news agency Xinhua, meanwhile, described it as a "new dawn for China's sci-fi filmmaking."
Director Guo Fan says "The Wandering Earth" has been so popular because it has human emotions at its core.
"I made the lead role (played by Wu Jing) in memory of my father," Guo told CNN.
"It tells the story of a typical Chinese father's love. It's always forbearing and without too many words, but it's so powerful. That's my understanding of a father's love."
In another sign of its unique appeal, authorities allowed the creators to portray the destruction of Beijing and Shanghai -- the first time a Chinese-made film has been allowed to do so.
"I liked watching sci-fi films when I was very young. One of the major reasons that I wanted to be a director was because I wanted to make sci-fi films. So this film is a process of realizing my dream," Guo added.
Future of Chinese cinema
China is likely to become the world's largest cinema market in coming years, according to industry insiders.
It already has a robust multi-billion-dollar film industry which produces hundreds of movies every year, mainly for a large and increasingly affluent domestic audience.
But some of the country's biggest recent blockbusters have been criticized as overly nationalistic, effectively acting as government propaganda. Its two most successful box-office hits -- "Wolf Warrior 2" and "Operation Red Sea" -- were considered to have strong pro-Beijing overtones.
Guo's effort, however, breaks the mould.
"There is little nationalistic plot in 'The Wandering Earth'," Chinese film critic Raymond Zhou told CNN.