Simu Liu plays Shang-Chi in Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”.
When “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” hits theaters on Friday, it will be the first time since the pandemic began that a Marvel film will be shown exclusively in theaters, but it’s its absence on a major one international market, the box office analysts in conversation.
“Shang-Chi” is the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe not to be released in China and only the second not to be released in China. The underlying controversy seems to stem from the cast of the film and perception of the comic book series on which “Shang-Chi” is based.
The absence from the Chinese box office means that “Shang-Chi” is leaving a large sum of money on the table. China has been the second highest box office of all Marvel films since 2012, just behind the US and Canada.
With a theatrical-only release and ties to a blockbuster 24-movie franchise, there is no doubt that “Shang-Chi” will top the box office in the US and Canada this weekend. It could even claim to be the highest Labor Day weekend opening ever.
But China is a key market for its size. Before the pandemic, China was the second largest box office in the world, according to Comscore data, with annual ticket sales of $ 8.67 billion. In addition, delays in the release of popular films in China often expose a film to higher levels of piracy.
“Marvel is an immensely popular franchise practically everywhere, and these films owe a significant portion of their international box office success to the ticket sales that China generates,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice.com. “Anywhere, 10 to 20% of the global gross sales of a Marvel film can come from the Middle Kingdom alone.”
Marvel has achieved this benchmark since 2013. In the early years of the Marvel franchise, China accounted for between 2% and 6% of total theatrical sales.
For the 2019 release of Avengers: Endgame, Disney planned to debut to domestic and Chinese audiences over the same weekend. The result was the highest opening weekend in film history. During its lifetime, 22% of ticket sales came from China.
“The growth of the Chinese theatrical market over the past decade has been impressive; in essence, sales have tripled since 2012 and have become a major target for many American blockbusters, who often rely on the country’s box office earning power to help them to bring it to the next round. ” Level, “said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.
“Shang-Chi” will not benefit from these ticket sales until its domestic debut as it has not yet been approved by government officials for release in China. The region does not operate a free cinema market and all films produced abroad have to pass the censorship in order to be distributed locally.
China has strict rules on content and suppresses everything that it believes violates its basic socialist values or affects its nationalist image. The country recently stepped up crackdown on its own entertainment industry, urging broadcasters to ban artists with “wrong political positions” and effeminate styles from shows in order to create a “more patriotic atmosphere”.
“Black Widow” was allowed to display in the country, but the release date coincided with a lockdown period in China. In July, the country leaves cinemas open for local productions and shows foreign films. This year, the planning for non-Chinese films was additionally influenced by the 100th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Communist Party. The occasion led to months of censorship in all media.
Unfortunately, the rampant piracy of “Black Widow” after its release in domestic cinemas and via streaming means that it will never get a run in China.
“Having near-perfect pirated copies of a major motion picture floating around is never good for business and is understandably a concern for the entire film industry,” said Dergarabedian.
Box office analysts have speculated that “Shang-Chi” would be removed from the file because of its source material. The comics on which the film is based are considered racist and full of reductive stereotypes. While Marvel boss Kevin Feige has gone out of his way to allay any concerns about the portrayals in the upcoming film, it may not be enough to get it working in Chinese theaters.
Marvel’s “Eternals” could suffer a similar fate, although the reason for the rejection is very different. The film is directed by Chloe Zhao, who recently became a persona non grata in China after previous remarks she made about the country surfaced online. The backlash resulted in her name and accomplishments being deleted from much of the Chinese internet.
That leaves “Spider-Man: No Way Home” as the next potential Marvel film to hit theaters in the country. The last two standalone Spider-Man films have done well in China, generating sales of $ 117.5 million in 2017 and 2019.
The pent-up demand to see a Marvel movie on the big screen could lead to audiences flocking to theaters when it is released in December.
Correction: Avengers: Endgame generated 22% of its $ 2.8 billion or $ 627.2 million in ticket sales from China. An earlier version of this story misrepresented the value of sales in China.