Doctor Strange just had a stellar opening weekend at the box office, in large part due to a $44.3 million opening in China, more than half the film’s U.S. total, brining its total global gross to more than $325 million. China, the second largest film market in the world behind the U.S., has been of increasingly attractive for Hollywood studios looking to capitalize on its revenue potential, and being locked out of that market could make a significant impact on a film already struggling to make back its budget. With that in mind, the introduction of protectionist new film regulation in China today could have interesting ramifications for Hollywood.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the new regulations, which must still undergo a review process after being passed by the legislature, include a provision that “overseas organizations or individuals that have been involved in activities that damage the dignity, honor and interests of the country and harm social stability, shall not be worked with” and state that Chinese theaters must make sure that domestic films are give 2/3 of all available screening time, adding to an already existing quota restricting international films in China to just 34 per year. Another rule insists that Chinese movies, which may apply to movies worked in on collaboration with foreign partners, must “serve the people and socialism,” which is good news for filmmakers looking for Chinese backing to make a Bernie Sanders biopic, but perhaps a little bit concerning for everyone else.
China’s potential as a source of box office revenue is only likely to grow, and Hollywood studios’ desire to nab as large as possible a chunk of that revenue isn’t going away anytime soon. Logic would dictate that we’ll probably see more adjustments to movie plots and productions to keep them in line with acceptable Chinese standards. As an example, Doctor Strange kicked up a lot of hubbub earlier this year when its screenwriter revealed that The Ancient One’s origin was changed to avoid dealing with Tibet, a sensitive subject for the Chinese government, which ultimately led to casting Tilda Swinton in the role to sidestep the issue. Those comments were later walked back, but it’s hard to believe it wasn’t really a factor. With these new regulations, we could be seeing more of that sort of thing in the near future.
Other interesting aspects of the new laws are increased anti-piracy legislation, which should please the fascists at the MPAA, and the establishment of a ethics committee to monitor China’s movie stars, along with laws requiring movie professionals be “excellent in both moral integrity and film art, maintain self-discipline and build a positive public image,” which sounds pretty ominous.
The laws go into effect on March 1, 2017, and there should be more information on how they’ll work and what impact they might have before then.