China says Hollywood needs to show respect as films blocked

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG)- China wants US filmmakers to show more cultural respect, in a rare public comment on Hollywood’s dwindling fortunes after the Asian nation shunned a series of American blockbusters.

“We hope the quality of American films can continue to be improved on the basis of respecting our culture, customs and audience behaviours,” said Mr Sun Yeli, vice-minister of the Communist Party central committee’s publicity department.

“We will import from whichever countries that make better films and films that are more suitable for the taste of Chinese audience.”

The country is the world’s largest movie market and an important source of revenue for Hollywood.

About 41 per cent of the films the world’s second-biggest economy has imported over the past 10 years have been American, and the box office earnings of some US titles in China exceed revenue earned back at home, Mr Sun said.

It’s the first time a high-level Chinese official has hinted at why American films have found it harder to get approval for local showings.

Hollywood’s market share plunged to a record low last year amid heightened nationalism and President Xi Jinping’s efforts to curb Western cultural influence.

The business environment remains uncertain this year given rising tensions between Beijing and Washington, with some of the biggest American blockbusters failing to get approval to be released in China.

That includes Paramount’s “Top Gun: Maverick,” which earned more than US$1.3 billion (S$1.8 billion) in ticket sales globally, but has yet to be shown in China, where it’s seen as celebrating the US military. The appearance of a Taiwanese flag on a bomber jacket worn by Tom Cruise’s character also angered many Chinese social media users.

Walt Disney Co’s “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” and “Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings” have also been shut out of China.

Another of Disney’s Marvel titles, “Eternals,” failed to show last year. The film’s Oscar-winning director, Chloe Zhao has made comments in the past that were deemed critical of China.

Only 28 American films were released in China last year, accounting for 12 per cent of the country’s overall box office revenue, according to ticketing platform Maoyan Entertainment.

That compares with more than 50 titles in 2019 that saw Hollywood win a 32 per cent market share. So far this year, China has imported 18 US movies, accounting for 11 per cent of total ticket sales.