If Hollywood studios want their movies to be shown in China they have to toe the Chinese line and do what they're told.
Brad Pitt is the latest star to have his movie cut by the producers to make it suitable for Chinese audiences, and more big-budget blockbusters intended for summer release are being scissored as China’s fast-growing appetite for Hollywood films exerts an ever-more powerful influence on the major studios.
Pitt's $175 million zombie epic World War Z had to lose a scene in which characters debate whether a zombie apocalypse emanated in China.
"It’s not a huge plot point,” said a source, “but it was done because Paramount wants to release the movie there."
China passed Japan as the largest international source of box office revenue in 2012, contributing $2.7 billion, a 36 percent increase over the previous year. And some analysts say the Asian giant will pass the United States in box office revenue by 2020.
While China has loosened its restrictions on the number of foreign films that can screen in the country, its film board continues to wield a great deal of influence, causing unprecedented changes in plots, release strategies, casting and other elements of Hollywood production.
Marvel Studios has just announced it will release an alternate version of Iron Man 3 in China featuring China’s leading movie star Fan Bingbing, as well as offering specially prepared bonus footage made exclusively for the Chinese audience.
While most try to avoid running foul of Chinese censors before production begins, some studios don’t alter their movies until post-production. Chinese censors cut large chunks out of several movies released last year, including 40 minutes from Cloud Atlas and 12 minutes from Men in Black 3, taking out all scenes set in Chinatown.
A scene that featured the assassination of a nameless Chinese security guard was eliminated from the James Bond film Skyfall.
“The Chinese Communist Party wants to have a unified message,” Stanley Rosen, director of the University of Southern California’s East Asian Studies Centre told TheWrap. “They are getting better in terms of what subject matter is allowed to be shown, but worse in terms of remaining hyper-sensitive to anything that puts China in a bad light.”
China only opened its market to the Hollywood studios in 1994, when its own film industry had reached its nadir. “It wasn’t out of admiration for Hollywood but to save the Chinese film industry,” Rosen said. “People weren’t going to the movies.”
At the time, China only allowed 10 foreign movies to be screened each year, then increased it to 20 before the current total of 34. Those additional 14 slots are all reserved for IMAX or 3D.