China has lifted the ban on Marvel movies after three years. The nation is now open to Hollywood movies, including Marvel and DC projects. This is good news for recent and upcoming releases since China has a big market of moviegoers. The social media platform, Weibo, revealed the surprising decision in a post on January 17, 2023.
However, it is worth noting that the unofficial ban on Marvel movies in China was never explained. There have been several speculations and rumors that try and explain the reason behind the ban, and strict censorship and promotion of local movies seem to be two reasons.
February 2023 saw the release of two Marvel movies in China, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. This is good news since the Chinese market may push the movies to a billion-dollar sale.
Disclaimer: This article contains the personal views of the author.
Why did China block the screening of Marvel movies?
China is the second-largest market for the entertainment industry after North America. The last Marvel project shown in Chinese theaters was Spider-Man: No Way Home in July 2019, and before that, Avengers: Endgame was a huge hit in China.
However, for about three-and-a-half years, China imposed an unofficial ban on Marvel movies. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Eternals are some films that did not reach Chinese theaters.
The release or ban on films is in the hands of the China Film Administration, which takes its censorship very seriously. It is believed that it does not encourage any content connected to the LGBTQIA community.
In the Doctor Strange film, America Chavez, played by Xochitl Gomez, is a part of the LGBTQIA+ community, which may have been one of the reasons behind the film's ban.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness had a momentary shot of the conservative, government-opposing newspaper – The Epoch Times. That may have been another reason to prevent the screening of the movie besides the film’s depiction of Tibet.
It is believed that Eternals as well as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings have political and social reasons to invite a ban. Chloe Zhao, the director for Eternals, is a critic of the Chinese government leading to her censorship in China. In Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the portrayal of Chinese characters was not appreciated by the Film Administration.
The China Film Administration was also monitoring local movie releases. Promoting the local film industry is another aim of the organization. Importing films from Hollywood is checked to balance locally-made movies.
What other factors affect the import of Hollywood movies into China?
China’s policies on film imports depend on its diplomatic ties with western nations, particularly the US. Improved relations are likely to help open up the market. Since the two Marvel movies slated for release are timed after the Chinese New Year, the government looks more accommodating about the films.
Moreover, after 2019-2020, the pandemic situation in the country took a turn for the worse due to the new omicron infections. Taking a stance of “zero-Covid”, the Chinese government put a complete stop to theater screenings. This affected the release of many Hollywood and local movies.
Why did the Chinese government change its mind?
Here are a few logical guesses about the answer to this question. One reason is the change in political stand and them warming up towards the west.
Another reason is the change in the Disney office. Disney has brought back former CEO Bob Iger after CEO Bob Chapek left the company. Iger is known to have great associations with China and may recreate lost connections.
Additionally, since the Covid lockdown rules have been lifted, theaters need to get back to business. It is important for their viewers to be drawn to cinema halls to try and make up for the losses that they have incurred in the last three years.
As per reports, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever opened to a relatively quieter audience as compared to the huge success of Avengers: Endgame. The film allegedly grossed approximately $3.47 million on the opening day, and is predicted to cross $18 million.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania opened on February 17, 2023, both in the US and in China. With a gross of $19.4 million in the debuting week, it tops the Chinese cinema charts. However, this remains lukewarm compared to the welcome the MCU movies enjoyed in China three years ago.
However, with China opening its doors to Marvel films, the company is hopeful that the audience will go back to showing these films the love they did previously.