‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ already has a very amortized commercial career and all over the world. Shortly before Christmas we were talking about an initial collection of 260 million dollars in the United States, a weekend only surpassed by the historic premiere of ‘Avengers: Endgame’. In one day it exceeded the collections of all the films released in recent months, and things have only grown: 1,800 million collections, an absolute record for 2021, by Sony Pictures and the sixth highest-grossing film in history. But the important Chinese box office was missing.
China doesn’t want Spider-Man. The Chinese authorities have a problem with the climax of the film. According to nextshark, the symbolic Statue of New York appears too preeminently, although in this case it carries a Captain America shield (it may even make the situation worse, well seen). China has asked Marvel to remove it (after downgrading the original request that the climax be removed altogether) or at least downplay its importance in terms of “excessive patriotism”.
But the cost of retouching so many plans would have been too high, and Marvel prefers not to release in China. Cost of the negative in losses: between 170 to 340 million dollars in sales. Marvel leaves behind, thus, some substantial box office possibilities, especially taking into account what the previous installments raised in China: ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’, grossed around 117 million dollars in 2017 and ‘Spider-Man: far from home’, 204.9 million.
Why China’s box office is still important. The bottom line for the box office business in China is something that has been well known and assimilated as part of Hollywood’s exploitation strategies for a few years now. The case of ‘World of Warcraft’, a film practically unknown in the United States and Europe but a box office bomb in China (47.7 million grosses in the United States, 386.3 in the rest of the world) is the classic example to contrast the need to pay attention to that market.
And although Marvel is not going to give in with ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ to the increasing demands of China, of course it cannot be said that in the United States they are not attentive to the conditions. Due to its characteristics and also due to the tastes of the Chinese market (which has the DNA of action cinema imprinted on fire, and they inject acrobatic sequences even in third-rate romantic dramas), this is especially the case with action cinema: partially Asian casts, plot-driven trips justified to China, product placement of brands there…
Let no one bother: … and similarly, sequences or allusions that could be offensive to the Chinese public or its very sensitive government are also cut or eliminated altogether. Of course, the racist allusions are pruned, but also the conflicting references to the Chinese leaders and their internal and foreign policies.
For example, the virus that triggers the zombie plague in ‘World War Z’ changed from Chinese to Russian. A memory-wiping scene of Chinese pedestrians in ‘Men in Black 3’ was cut because it could be understood as a veiled reference to the country’s censorship. And the script of the remake of ‘Karate Kid’ (there, ‘Kung Fu Kid’) was modified so that the Chinese children who attack the protagonist do not appear to be doing so without prior provocation.
The unexpected effects of the pandemic. However, and although in 2017 it was predicted that China would easily become the most important film market in the world, something that seemed to be corroborated in 2020, when for the first time China’s box office surpassed that of the United States, a guest was yet to come. to the party: COVID. The pandemic forced the closure of cinemas around the world and unexpectedly catapulted the use of streaming domestic, accelerating a situation that had already been incubating for years.
That year theaters around the world were closed, and long-awaited premieres such as the latest installment of ‘Mission: Impossible’ (which is still in post-production) or Daniel Craig’s farewell as James Bond (which premiered a few months ago) delayed. The losses multiplied, the studios took extreme measures and China overtook the United States in 2020 thanks to entering 2.5 billion euros: yes, 68% less than in 2019, but far from the 80% drop experienced by the United States.
This is because China managed to contain the virus more quickly and effectively than the rest of the world did. Shopping centers, department stores and main streets reopened relatively quickly, and by the end of the year they had regained maximum capacity in cinemas. In 2020, the restrictions on foreign releases limited their number to 34, and a percentage of income of 25% of the box office. The mixture of protectionism and management of the pandemic catapulted the figures, but there was still one last twist in the situation.
Complicated return. For about a month now, China has returned to square one: while the rest of the world was getting back to normal, cities as important as Shanghai remained under almost complete lockdown. Around 500 confirmed cases by those dates and, just a few days later, a single serious case of COVID were official figures that sounded almost like a joke compared to what has been experienced in the rest of the world, but the truth (and leaving Whether or not the official figures are true) served to keep 26 million people confined… and the cinemas closed.
And that is why, for a couple of weeks, the Chinese box office has been breaking records down. The confinement, the absence of major releases (and things are not going to change… because of the Statue of Liberty, because the latest ‘Fantastic Animals’ has already been dragging a weak box office in the West) and the restrictions on cinema of Hollywood are not helping. And although the situation indicates that little by little normality is going to be restored, the excellent figures harvested in 2020 are not going to be repeated for the time being.
So maybe Marvel shouldn’t worry about the $170 million to $340 million in sales it loses by skipping the Chinese market. The Asian giant is not what it used to be, at least in terms of its need for attention from Hollywood. The pandemic situation has taken so many turns in the status quo of film distribution that it is difficult to predict which direction it will go next, but perhaps the Asian pre-eminence is not as clear as it was a few years ago.