Beijing has ordered China’s cinemas to use the box office this year to spread propaganda celebrating the Communist Party. The country’s movie fans aren’t having it — and worry the new mandate is crowding out some of the Hollywood films they are clamoring for.
Chinese moviegoers revolted last month after major ticketing sites around the country quietly stopped promoting showings for new re-releases of the three “The Lord of the Rings” movies, the popular and critically acclaimed Western adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy book series. The disappearance of the films — which had been remastered in time for the first movie’s 20th anniversary — from theater schedules in early April took many in China by surprise. Warner Bros., which did not respond to questions about why that happened, had been advertising their return to Chinese movie theaters for weeks.
“The Fellowship of the Ring,” “The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King” were originally scheduled for release on April 9, April 16 and April 23, respectively, according to promotional materials published in March. Fans had cheered the news and there was reason to suspect the films could help boost an unsteady box office: James Cameron’s “Avatar” had just been re-released in Chinese cinemas to success. But on April 1 — the day a Beijing-led effort to promote movies celebrating the founding of the Communist Party took effect — promotional posters and ticketing information for “The Lord of the Rings” vanished from major ticketing apps. At the same time, decades-old movies that promoted the Party and which were favored by regulators flooded theater schedules.
The China Film Administration, which released the directive to promote Party-approved movies, never put out any public statements calling for Hollywood movies to be removed from theater schedules. The agency did not respond to a request for comment from CNN Business. But industry analysts and movie fans in the country were quick to blame Chinese film regulators, who they believed to be the obvious culprits. “We just want to watch popcorn movies,” one person wrote on the Chinese social media website Zhihu on April 5. “Don’t bother us with US-China relations here, please.”