Top Gun, Thor and other big budget Hollywood movies finally giving China the cold shoulder – know why

Over the years multiple Hollywood films have been banned in China if they did not meet country’s censorship standards. However, it seems the tides have changes with big budget Hollywood flicks actually deciding to refrain from releasing in Chinese markets

New Delhi: Chinese censorship of Hollywood movies commenced a long time ago. One of the first movies to reportedly be banned in China was ‘The Ten Commandments’, in 1923. A silent religious epic movie, it was banned in the country under a category of ‘superstitious films’ owing to its religious nature.

The 1925 movie ‘Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ’ and 1931’s ‘Frankenstein’ would follow suit. Over the years many movies have been banned in China, owing to a number of reasons – from portraying a Chinese flag, to casting actors or having filmmakers who have not found favour with the government of the country.

Most recently, the 29th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Taika Waititi directorial ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’, Chris Hemsworth’s fourth solo outing as the ‘God of Thunder’ (the first for any MCU superhero), became one in a long line of movies which is not likely to receive a release date in the territory due to the inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters and scenes.

Reports suggest that it is unlikely the movie will be given the nod by Chinese censors owing to plot points such as Korg’s two fathers, his onscreen moment with another Kronan and references to Valkyrie being bisexual.

However, ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ is not the only movie to face the wrath of Chinese censors in recent years. Movies like Marvel’s ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ as well as ‘Eternals’ were not released in mainland China either. The movies were expected to be huge draws in the Chinese market, given their ethnic bent in storyline, but they never released. There were reports that Simu Liu, the superhero of ‘Shang-Chi’ and ‘Eternals’ director Chloe Zhao had received the cold shoulder for reportedly criticising the country’s government years ago.

But when did it all begin?

While China has for years maintained strict censorship on movie content, Isaac Stone Fish in his 2022 book ‘America Second, How America’s Elites are making China Stronger’ had revealed how the Chinese government ordered a total rewrite of James Bond’s ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, the original storyline of which involved China taking over Hong Kong. On the government objecting, producers ditched the script and ordered a complete rewrite.

The Bond change marked a turning point in China-US censorship, with the demand for changes becoming a norm.

But are things still the same? It seems a wind of change has blown over Hollywood, with many movies deciding to go against Beijing appeasement when it comes to releasing movies in China. Tom Cruise starrer ‘Top Gun: Maverick’, which is easily one of the highest grossers in its 2019 trailer removed the Taiwanese and Japanese flags from Cruise’s bomber jacket – appeasing Beijing. However, once investor Tencent TCEHY reportedly dropped out, the symbol was reinstated on Maverick’s iconic jacket.

Following the change, executives at Paramount no longer expected a release in China. A similar move was exercised by Disney and Pixar, who were asked by China to remove a brief same-sex kissing scene from ‘Lightyear’. Disney declined the cut. Similarly, Sony faced flak in China when they were asked by Chinese regulators to cut out or minimise the appearance of the Statue of Liberty in ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’. The studio reportedly refused, making it the third big-budget movie in recent years to not release in China.

Sony sacrificed big bucks, letting go of millions in additional revenue by standing up to Chinese censorship. Chinese censorship requesting the removal of the iconic Statue of Liberty, for Sony to be allowed to showcase in China, also illustrated how aggressive Chinese bullying of the US movie industry had become.

But not anymore

Industry experts are of the opinion that China’s clout has receded, mainly because the China movie market is not what it used to be. Recent months have seen movie studios begin to rethink their strategies, with Chris Fenton, former president of DMG Entertainment and author of the book ‘Feeding the Dragon: Inside the Trillion-Dollar Dilemma Facing Hollywood, the NBA, and American Business’, stating that there is a 100 per cent shift in how Hollywood regards the Chinese censorship.

As per reports, China no longer guarantees big revenues, and while in 2020 it may have been the biggest movie market in the world, the favours have tilted towars the US once again. Theatres in the States opening in full boom post COVID, even as China maintains a strict ‘zero COVID’ policy.

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