Major movie studios censoring or altering content to appease China has been one of the biggest stories in Tinseltown for several years now. A new report, however, reveals that at least one entertainment company wasn’t willing to play that game.
Multiple unnamed sources told the Hollywood trade publication, Puck, that Sony Pictures refused to make changes to its 2021 blockbuster “Spider-Man: No Way Home” in order to secure a release in the Middle Kingdom.
According to the outlet, “Chinese regulators” (China’s National Film Administration answers to the Chinese Communist Party) were bothered by “patriotic” scenes in the movie’s climactic action sequence at the Statue of Liberty. The CCP asked Sony to cut shots that clearly showed Peter Parker and his squad of good guys battling villains on top of Lady Liberty. When the Japanese-owned company rebuffed that request, censors then asked producers to minimize the statue or darken scenes that included it so it would be less noticeable.
Once again, Sony said no. As a result, China banned the film.
Analysts estimate that Sony’s decision to pass up the rich box office potential in the world’s largest movie market likely cost the film between $170 and $340 million.
That said, the web-slinger’s latest outing managed to rake in huge profits even without the help of Chinese audiences. It was the top-grossing movie of 2021 and the third highest-earning movie of all time, just behind “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Avengers Endgame,” earning $800 million domestically.
While “No Way Home” may represent the biggest movie Sony has declined to change to please Xi Jinping, it’s not the only one. The studio famously stood behind director Quentin Tarantino in 2019 when he refused the Chinese government’s request that he make changes to “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” the film many critics call his magnum opus. The CCP reportedly did not like the way the historical drama portrayed Bruce Lee, a national hero in China.
While the two-time Oscar winner is known for insisting on final-cut rights in all his contracts to prevent studios from tampering with his work, he told Deadline Sony “absolutely backed me, 100%.” He revealed that while he would have been willing to make minor changes, “there is a certain line you cannot cross.” That line, he said, included censoring content for political reasons.
“To actually remove an entire scene because the country finds that scene objectionable?” Tarantino asked rhetorically, “No.” Chinese regulators ended up putting the film “on hold” and never later released it to theaters.
Still, even those studios who are notoriously willing to kowtow to China are finding it more difficult to release films in the country. The CCP sent shock waves through Hollywood when it started denying release dates for a number of Marvel films, including “Black Widow,” “Eternals,” and “Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings,” a movie that was, ironically, in many ways specifically tailored to appeal to Chinese audiences.
Now that the CCP is letting fewer Hollywood films into the country, there’s less financial incentive for studios to preemptively shape content to pass muster with Chinese censors, meaning more studios may soon be following Sony’s lead, albeit for different reasons.