Bruce Beresford’s Mao’s Last Dancer has grossed $2.93m (A$3.32m) in its first five days on release in Australia, making it the biggest local hit of 2009.

Its opening day, last Thursday, and opening weekend – which was a holiday weekend – was the fifth best result for an Australian film ever after Happy Feet, Australia, Moulin Rouge and The Dish.

The drama tells the true story of Li Cunxin, who was a child when plucked from a modest Chinese classroom to try out as a ballet dancer and went on to become a big star in the US.

Jan Sardi wrote the script from biography of Li, who is now married to an Australian and works in the financial sector in Melbourne. Sydney-based Jane Scott produced the film, which was filmed in the US, China and Australia.

“This is pretty much phenomena territory: people thought it would do well but we’re looking at an A$4m first week box office,” said Troy Lum, executive producer and managing director of Hopscotch Films.

“The film has a perspective that is beyond the boundaries of being an Australian film, we pursued our box office goal aggressively, spent significant money on p&a (prints and advertising) and it has exceeded expectations.”

Hopscotch and Roadshow Films jointly opened the film on 267 screens nationally; it is unusual for two significant distributors to partner like this but Lum decided he needed to get in some muscle in response to Scott’s aspirations for the film.

“We seemed to get along, learn from each other, and we were all on the same page on the size of the release, how much to spend and what kind of audience the film would get … When you halve the risk you can be more aggressive without thinking you are going to lose your shirt, even though the upside is also halved.”

The film was runner up for the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Beresford’s cast includes principal dancer at the Birmingham Royal Ballet, Chi Cao, Bruce Greenwood, Kyle MacLachlan, Jack Thompson, Aden Young, Amanda Schull, Camilla Vergotis, a soloist at the Hong Kong Ballet, and Chengwu Ghuo from the Australian Ballet.

Hopscotch and Roadshow are also working together on Bright Star’s December release.