China and Hollywood used to have a symbiotic relationship. Hollywood released massive blockbusters in the Asian nation, they made massive bank, audiences were happy, and presumably Chinese theater owners were doing quite well for themselves, along with Hollywood often getting impressive box office boosts from the country. That’s changed in recent years to the point that it’s almost flipped to an antagonistic dynamic. Movies like Marvel tentpoles—that used to routinely make millions at the Chinese box office—are seemingly no longer very welcome.
Now to underscore the friction between China and Hollywood, and perhaps point out how something has shifted and the demands are becoming ridiculous, Puck News is reporting that the country’s government censors, who decide if western films can play in Chinese theaters, requested that Sony Pictures remove the Statue of Liberty from “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” Now, to reiterate how huge of a request this is, the big action sequence at the end of the movie pretty much costumes the entire third act of the film. To somehow change or remove that and make the rest of the movie work would have cost millions of extra dollars; a non-starter request if there ever was one.
The Statue of Liberty is obviously an iconic patriotic landmark of both New York City and the United States that was a gift from France. It’s a symbol of the country’s desire for liberty, justice, and most importantly, democracy. Those notions seem to conflict with authoritarian and repressive governments, which could be why China objected to its inclusion in the film. Communist China been cracking down on protests in Hong Kong and are committing genocide against the Uyghurs population. Perhaps freedom and democracy are seen as dangerous concepts, but who knows, lots of other Marvel films with less “controversial” imagery have not been allowed in the country of late. Since 2019′s “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” no Marvel movie has been released in China.
Ultimately, ‘No Way Home’ didn’t play in China, but excluding the country didn’t have a huge impact on the film’s box office as this third Spider-Man movie went on to gross $1.892 billion worldwide, making it the sixth highest-grossing movie of all time.
Disney is also seeing their own Marvel movies get banned for refusing to edit content. “Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness” is being banned in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, and Qatar because of brief LGBTQ+ elements in the film (a 12-second scene). The film also might not play in China due to promoting an international media outlet that is critical of the Chinese government.
As fewer and fewer Hollywood event films play in China, there is less of a reason to make changes to adhere to a group of repressive censors that might make arbitrary but costly requests of studios. But the real problem is the dollars and audiences movie studios suddenly can’t access. Hollywood used to be almost over-reliant on China and collectively, this industrial complex will have to figure out a way forward knowing that millions of millions of dollars just won’t be available to them in that market going forward. Or, for at least the time being.