Communist China Maintains Stronghold on Movie Censorship, But Will UNCHARTED Break Through?

Photo by Karen Zhao via Unsplash

Communist China Maintains Stronghold on Movie Censorship, But Will UNCHARTED Break Through?

By Movieguide® Contributor

As the curtain draws to a close on China’s Olympic stage, its façade of openness and international camaraderie continues to crumble. As reported in Variety, China maintains its stronghold on censorship and has demonstrated absolute control over which movies are allowed in its theaters and when they premiere.

China “…has recently been ultra-selective about the non-Chinese films it allows to screen in the country’s tens of thousands of venues. As a result, many of Hollywood’s biggest pandemic-era releases, such as SPIDER-MAN; NO WAY HOME, SHANG-CHI AND THE TEN RINGS and THE ETERNALS weren’t granted access to Chinese movie theaters.”

This not only impacts potential hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for studios, but it is an indication of how the Chinese government fears a free flow of information across its borders, including and especially Christianity.

In September 2021, Movieguide® reported that the name “Moses” was removed from a movie title and Chinese director Zhang Ji refused to answer when questioned specifically about the move. When faced with accusations of human rights abuses, China brazenly refutes the claims with pageantry.

Of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Movieguide® reported:

The United States declined to send official representatives to China for the Games this year, citing the country’s human rights abuses, such as their treatment of the Uyghur people living within China’s borders. Additionally, the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP, significantly persecutes Christians living within the country, forcing many believers to practice their faith underground. 

Chinese government influence has even appeared in children’s movies. In 2019’s animated ABOMINABLE, the presence of a line on a map of the South China Sea caused nations including Vietnam to pull the movie and discuss a boycott of DreamWorks.

The story, from U.S. company DreamWorks and China’s Pearl Studio, centers on the friendship adventure between a Chinese girl from Shanghai and a Yeti and has nothing to do with the disputed territory. However, it was a few seconds glimpse of the contentious map which shows the “nine-dash line” that started the controversy.

As reported by BBC, China uses the “nine-dash line” to “show its claims in the South China Sea. Parts of the sea and various island groups are claimed by five other Asian countries, as well as China” and its presence in the movie makes a bold statement endorsing China’s historically disputed claim.

Most recently, Sony’s UNCHARTED was granted a March 14 premiere date in China, but industry pros are not exactly feeling relieved.

As Variety reports:

In an alternate timeline, an action-adventure like “Uncharted,” which stars “Spider-Man” actor Tom Holland as treasure hunter Nathan Drake, would have likely minted money in China. Now, it will instead serve as a vital test of whether or not Chinese moviegoers have any interest in Hollywood product. As of late, the select movies that China’s censors have approved ultimately failed to connect at the box office.

That was the case with the latest James Bond sequel “No Time to Die,” which made $64 million in China, and director Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” remake, which earned $39 million in China — far less than their studios would have hoped when they were greenlit years ago. “Death on the Nile” continued that trend, debuting to a paltry $5.9 million over the weekend. The star-studded murder mystery from Kenneth Branagh will struggle to match the box office receipts of its predecessor, 2017’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” which made $34.6 million in China.

“Hollywood exports that have opened in the Middle Kingdom recently haven’t exactly set the box office ablaze,” Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations says. “China used to be a surefire way for American films to blow past $1 billion worldwide.”   

UNCHARTED also contains strong Christian themes, which may raise flags for the CCP.

However, this may not spell disaster for UNCHARTED, as it “could defy the odds when it comes to selling tickets in China because video game adaptations have been more consistently beloved in the Middle Kingdom compared to the U.S.”

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