In a surprise announcement on Tuesday, Marvel shared that Captain Marvel 2 and Ant-Man 3 will be the first movies of Marvel's Phase 4 to screen in China. This marks the first time that Marvel movies will be released in China since Spider-Man: Far From Home and Avengers: Endgame in early/mid-2019. The release of these two movies will test how the drought of Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies has affected fan sentiment around the franchise.
It is worth noting that the first Black Panther grossed $105 million in China in 2018 and Ant-Man and the Wasp earned over $121.2 million. However, a long list of Marvel titles were blocked from release in China in past months, including Black Widow, Spider-Man: No Way Home, The Eternals, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder. Chinese regulators never officially explained why the movies were denied entry, leaving the industry and commentators to speculate.
The theories for the denied entry include individual censorship offenses committed by the films, political transgressions of the director or actors involved in the titles, an increasingly repressive and nationalistic policy stance under President Xi Jinping, growing U.S.-China geopolitical tension, and general tightening of control over civil society surrounding two recent high-profile political events in the country, the 20th National Congress in 2022 and the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party in 2021.
Disney can breathe a sigh of relief that something close to the pre-pandemic audience numbers might be returning, as they did with the re-opening of Shanghai Disney. The first sign of good news came in late 2022 when China's Film Bureau granted James Cameron's Avatar: The Way of Water a day-and-date release with the U.S. in December. Even more surprising, the film later received permission to continue screening for an additional month, meaning its run will extend into China's Lunar New Year holiday, which is typically reserved only for local film releases. The film, which has earned $220 million after 33 days, will likely see its screen share shrink dramatically when the local holiday tentpoles launch on Sunday. But as recent events have indicated, official gestures often carry lasting significance in the China market.
It is important to note that the China market is historically important for Disney, as the box office in China is one of the largest in the world and it is a key market for Hollywood studios. However, Disney's relationship with China has been complicated in recent years due to censorship and geopolitical tensions. The release of Captain Marvel 2 and Ant-Man 3 in China could indicate a return to the pre-pandemic status quo for Disney in the Chinese market.
The announcement of Captain Marvel 2 and Ant-Man 3's release in China is a significant development for Marvel, Disney and the Hollywood industry as a whole. It will be interesting to see how these two movies perform in the Chinese market and how it will impact the relationship between Hollywood and China in the future.