Warner, China Film clash on ‘Dark Knight’ debut against ‘Spider-Man’ (LA Times)

26 July 2012 16 h 56 min Comments Off

A plan to open superhero movies “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “The Dark Knight Rises” on the same date in China has prompted a tense standoff between film authorities in Beijing and Hollywood’s biggest studio.

By Ben Fritz and John Horn
July 18, 2012,

Warner Bros.’ Batman sequel “The Dark Knight Rises” and Sony Pictures’ reboot “The Amazing Spider-Man” have both been scheduled to open in China on Aug. 30 , according to to several people familiar with the Chinese movie market not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. Release dates in China are set not by studios, but by the state-owned China Film Group.

Such a move would almost certainly depress the box office grosses of both big-budget pictures as they compete for audiences and screens.

In response, Warner Bros. is lobbying China Film Group to delay the opening of “Dark Knight Rises” to September, the knowledgeable people said. The negotiations are delicate, however, as China Film’s decision-making process is opaque to Hollywood studios. The underlying question in the dispute is which side has more leverage: China Film Group, the gatekeeper to the world’s second-largest movie market; or Warner Bros., which controls one of the most anticipated movies of the year, expected to gross more than $1 billion worldwide.

Spokespeople for Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures declined to comment. “Dark Knight Rises” is opening in the U.S. on Friday as well as in many other countries in Europe and Asia; “Spider-Man” has already been open for several weeks in most territories.

Should China Film refuse to change the opening date of “The Dark Knight Rises,” Warner Bros.’s only apparent option would be to hold back the movie entirely, potentially giving up tens of millions of dollars in box office revenue from the country in order to stand on principle.

The news comes a week after the revelation that the 3-D animated movies “Ice Age: Continental Drift” (from 20th Century Fox) and “The Lorax” (from Universal Pictures) will premiere against each other on July 27 in China.

In the past, it has been highly unusual for similar movies to open on the same date in China as the government sought to boost box office receipts, which hit $2 billion last year and are projected to rise to $3 billion by the end of 2012. But Chinese authorities may be concerned that Hollywood movies have been performing much better than local product so far this year, according to people with ties to the Chinese film market who did not want to be identified publicly because it might jeopardize their relationships there. These people said that executives at China Film appear to be opening similar American movies against each other in order to minimize their box office takes.

Xiao Ping, the general manager in charge of importing movies at China Film Group, said she had not received any “official confirmation” of the release dates of “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “The Dark Knight Rises.” “I’m not sure when those two movies will be released in China,” she said. “It all depends on the market conditions.”

She referred a Times reporter to other executives at China Film. One who worked in the legal department said that the China Film Distribution and Exhibition Assn. is in charge of scheduling release dates. However, a woman who answered the phone at the association said she couldn’t comment and referred questions back to China Film Group.

There has been an unofficial “blackout” on American movies in China for the last several weeks — with only local product appearing in theaters–from the opening of the animated film “Brave” on June 19 until “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1″ arrives on July 25. Consequently, there is expected to be a back-up of Hollywood summer tentpole pictures opening on top of one another over the next couple of months.

If China Film Group decides to continue opening American movies on the same dates, it could impact such pictures as the 3-D animated films “Hotel Transylvania,” “Frankenweenie,” “Wreck-It-Ralph” and “Rise of the Guardians,” as well as “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and the James Bond picture “Skyfall.”

Times news assistant Tommy Yang in Beijing contributed to this report.

Source: LA Times (26/07/12)

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