China to allow screening of two Walt Disney Co. filmsDIS) Marvel Studios movies next month, easing restrictions after four years that could boost international box office sales.
- China will allow the release of Disney’s two latest Marvel movies in February.
- “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” will be the first Marvel Studios films to be shown in China starting in 2019.
- Reauthorization of Disney films in China could lead to hundreds of millions of additional ticket sales.
- Chinese authorities have tightened restrictions on American films in the past few years due to rising political tensions between the two countries.
The movies to be released in China are “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” Black Panther, which has already grossed about $837 million since its November release, will arrive in theaters in China on February 7, while Ant-Man will arrive there on February 17, the same day it is scheduled to open in the US.
Chinese authorities have not allowed Marvel movies since 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame” and “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” The de facto ban over the past few years on other films in the Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and Shang-Chi franchises may have cost Disney hundreds of millions in ticket sales.
The release may extend beyond the Marvel Universe. In December, authorities cleared the Chinese release of “Avatar: The Way of Water” on the same day the film was released worldwide. The film’s gross in China has already exceeded $221 million. Superhero movies from other studios could be next; Warner Bros. Discovery Inc. (WBD) “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” has also been licensed for release in China at an unspecified date.
Rising political tensions between China and the US in recent years have coincided with tightening censorship controls on the Chinese film industry. At the same time, the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown has reduced the box office draw, which is estimated at just 30 billion yuan ($4.5 billion) for 2022. That number is expected to nearly double in 2023.
The thaw comes at the start of the second term of Robert Iger, Disney’s CEO from 2005 to 2020 and again from November. Iger has made sweeping changes to Disney’s streaming and at the same time reflect proxy battle by activist investor Nelson Peltz, whose investment firm owns about $900 million in Disney stock and is seeking a seat on the company’s board. The first evidence of the impact of Iger’s leadership will come from Disney’s financial report for the first quarter of 2023, which is due to be released on February 8.