It used to be standard practice for movie studios to alter their films so that they could appease censors in China, seen as the world’s largest market. But despite the potential box office boost, regulators’ requests can often be too extreme. According to Puck News, for example, Spider-Man: No Way Home didn’t receive a Chinese release because the country’s authorities wanted Marvel/Sony to remove the Statue of Liberty from the film.
For those who still haven’t seen the blockbuster (and Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness comes out this weekend, so what are you waiting for?!), the entire final battle takes place on, over, and around the Statue of Liberty. The movie sees the landmark being redesigned to honor the late Captain America, and the trio of Spider-Men use the scaffolding to their advantage while fighting the group of supervillains. Literally, it’s a 20-plus-minute climactic sequence in which the Statue of Liberty is the set.
It would have been a ridiculous feat to delete the Statue from the film, so to the studios’ credit, they immediately rejected the request. Chinese censors then came back saying the studios could just “minimize” the Statue’s prevalence, cutting certain “patriotic” shots atop the crown or obscuring Liberty’s face with darker lighting. Sony/Marvel apparently considered this, according to Puck’s sources, but ultimately chose to forgo a Chinese release.
It’s true Sony/Marvel could have made the changes and gotten that Chinese box office, but cutting out such an iconic American symbol would have been a bad look for the studios. Plus, there was no guarantee the edits would even satisfy China’s regulators.
Besides, the Chinese market just isn’t what it used to be. The censorship authorities there have become far more stringent in recent years, while the need for Chinese audiences to boost gross isn’t nearly as strong anymore. No Way Home, for example, has grossed $1.9 billion worldwide so far; China may have helped it cross the $2 billion mark, but what’s a few hundred million between billions?
In fact, there hasn’t been a Marvel movie theatrically released in China since Spider-Man: Far From Home in 2019. Previously, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals were barred after individuals involved with the films (star Simu Liu and director Chloé Zhao, respectively) made critical comments about the Chinese government. Their final box office haul? $432.2 and $402.1 million, respectively. Oh, well.
(Black Widow had been approved by China’s censors, but because its release would have been pushed until after the ruling Communist Party celebrated its 100th anniversary, pirated versions destroyed any potential financial gains from a Chinese release.)
It seems that Marvel’s next movie, Multiverse of Madness, will also skip a Chinese release — and for a supremely editable, minor reason. Apparently, a newspaper stand with the Chinese characters for the international, multi-language, anti-Chinese Communist Party publication The Epoch Times can be scene in the film’s opening minutes. It’s probably just as well the Doctor Strange sequel doesn’t land in China, as you’re really gonna want to have seen No Way Home first.