Disney’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” has been given permission to extend its current run in mainland Chinese cinemas beyond the 30-day theatrical period normally granted to Hollywood films imported into the country.
Such decisions are in the gift of the government regulators that oversee the sector and which have blocked Disney’s Marvel movies from playing in China for more than three years.
A spokesman for Disney in Asia confirmed to Variety that it has been informed of an additional 30 days of play for “Avatar 2.” Non-governmental sources have told Variety that the DreamWorks animation-produced “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” has also been granted an extension, though specifics were unavailable.
Such extensions are far from unprecedented and appear to be granted when a longer run could be viewed as beneficial to Chinese cinema operators or to a Chinese investor or co-producer.
What makes the “Avatar 2” and “Puss in Boots 2” extensions unusual is that the prolonged runs will overlap with the Chinese New Year holidays. The movable feast – this year starting on Jan. 21 – has become the biggest annual box office season in China and normally is the exclusive preserve of Chinese-made movies, especially those that are local franchise and family entertainment titles.
“Avatar 2” was released in China on Dec. 16, 2022, and would normally have seen its run come to an end on Jan. 15, 2023. The extension means that it should now be able to play until mid-February. “Puss in Boots” was released in China on Dec. 23, 2022.
“Avatar 2” has ranked top of the Chinese box office every day since its release. Pulling such a winner off screens would arguably have damaged the country’s already beaten-up exhibition sector. Chinese box office in 2022 was down by 36% compared with 2021 and, at close to $4.4 billion, endured its worst year in over a decade.
“Avatar 2” had reached a cumulative total in China of almost $190 million by Sunday night, according to consultancy Artisan Gateway. Local ticketing agencies now estimate its running total as exceeding $196 million.
“Puss in Boots” has been a more mediocre performer. It had earned just $2.9 million after more than two weeks on release, according to Artisan Gateway.
From Jan. 22, the two U.S. titles will have to compete with a slew of Chinese new release pictures.
The hot favorite among these is Frant Guo’s “The Wandering Earth 2,” a sequel to book-to-film sci-fi blockbuster “The Wandering Earth,” which earned $700 million in 2019.
Other Chinese films lining up for a piece of the Lunar New Year rush are: “Full River Red,” a historical drama from director Zhang Yimou with Jackson Yee in the starring role; “Hidden Blade,” a patriotic WWII action drama starring Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Wang Yibo; sports drama “Ping Pong of China,” directed by and starring Deng Chao; and “Boonie Bears: Guardian Code,” the latest instalment in the long-running Bonnie Bears family animation franchise.
Smaller titles reported to be challenging for Lunar New Year screen time include fantasy-comedy “Five Hundred Miles” and animated fantasy “Deep Sea.”