With Marvel’s global juggernaut Doctor Strange missing in action in China, Disney CEO Bob Chapek called the situation there “very fluid and very complicated, both from a business standpoint and from a political standpoint.”
But he noted that Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness had just crossed the $500 million mark in less than a week even without China, which hasn’t released a Marvel movie since Avengers: Endgame in 2019. (Disney’s latest releases there were Death On The Nile and Encanto.)
“We’ve got a long track record of success and a strong fan base for our brands and franchises in this market,” he told Wall Street on a post-earnings conference call, in response to a question. “We’ll continue to submit our films for release. And it is worth noting, I think, though, that at the time that we are having some difficulty in getting our films in China, that Doctor Strange did extraordinarily well.”
“So we’re pretty confident that even without China, if it were to be that we continue to have difficulties in getting titles in there, that it doesn’t really preclude our success given the relatively lower take rate that we get on the box office in China than we do across the rest of the world.”
Deadline has reported that the Benedict Cumberbatch-starrer now seems unlikely to open there after making waves on local social media for a scene of a newspaper kiosk with the Chinese characters for The Epoch Times — an international multi-language newspaper and media company that opposes the Chinese Communist Party. It was been submitted but no release date approved.
The first Doctor Strange grossed $109M in the PRC.
China and Hollywood have always had complicated relations. U.S. executives say it’s been a bit more so since the film industry, and the vetting of all foreign submissions, was put under the direct control of the Communist Party’s propaganda department in 2018. Execs during an international session at CinemaCon last month said films often aren’t rejected outright but just linger after being submitted, with a release date never set.
Eternals did not open in China after controversy about years-old comments by director Chloe Zhao that surfaced during the run of her Oscar winning Nomadland. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was held up too — possibly due to the character, villain Fu Manchu, who some criticized as a kind of ‘Yellow Peril’ stereotype. Black Widow never got a release date. (Ditto for Spider-Man: No Way Home, which was co-produced by Marvel and Sony and distributed by Sony.)