How China’s Censors Influence Hollywood

The importance of Chinese box offices for the international revenue of film studios continues to grow, a fact clearly illustrated in recent weeks by the massive theatrical success of both “Furious 7” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the former pulling in more in China than in the U.S. Amid this trend and in order to ensure success in the Chinese market, Hollywood is becoming increasingly sensitive to government censors, and willing to feature extraneous cultural references. At NPR, Frank Langfitt reports:

China’s government chooses which movies can be shown in what is now the world’s second-biggest cinema market, so many filmmakers have to think more carefully about how to attract Chinese audiences and not offend the country’s censors, according to scholars and theater owners.

Unlike the United States, China doesn’t have a movie-rating system. So the government relies on censors at the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of the People’s Republic of China — SAPPRFT — to block content it deems offensive for general audiences. What officials find offensive can extend beyond sex, violence and foul language to politics, culture and portrayals of China.

[…] For the Chinese release of Iron Man 3, moviemakers inserted a scene of doctors, played by major Chinese movie stars, discussing surgery on the superhero. The scene made no sense and seemed like it was from a different film. The Chinese audience I watched it with at an IMAX theater in Shanghai was bewildered.

[…] In recent years, foreign filmmakers have also gone out of their way not to provoke the Communist Party. For instance, the 2012 remake of the Cold War action movie, Red Dawn, originally featured Chinese soldiers invading an American town. After filming was complete, though, the moviemakers went back and turned the attacking army into North Koreans, which seemed a safer target, at least until last year’s hack of Sony Pictures. […] [Source]

At Forbes, Rob Cain describes the importance of the “billion dollar box office mark,” and how the China market has since 2011 become crucial in reaching that goal:

The billion dollar box office mark isn’t so much a magic number that guarantees profitability as it is a sort of symbolic Hollywood holy grail. After all, with more than half the box office receipts going to theater owners, and as much as a half billion dollars in production expenditures and global marketing costs, most studio blockbuster films rely far more on home video, digital distribution and TV sales than they rely on box office to break into the black. The billion dollar figure is important mainly because it offers the promise of big box office bonuses to the filmmakers and studio executives behind such successes, and bragging rights for everyone involved. If Hollywood gave out platinum records the way the music industry does, they would undoubtedly go to the producers of billion dollar bonanza movies.

Until recently, before its modern day cinema boom started, China mattered little in such affairs, because it accounted for only a negligible share of global cinema revenue. But since 2011, when it emerged as Hollywood’s most important overseas box office territory, China has played an increasingly essential role as kingmaker for those films aiming for the rarefied billion dollar threshold. And more often than not in recent years the major Hollywood studios’ key objective has been to generate films that cross that ten-figure threshold.

Of the 12 films that have reached billionaire box office status since 2011, half wouldn’t have gotten there without China’s ticket sales.  The two most recent Transformers films, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger TidesThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the Jurassic Park re-release and now Avengers: Age of Ultron all made it over the top thanks to China’s movie-going audiences. […] [Source]