China will allow screenings of two of Walt Disney Co.'s (DIS) Marvel Studios movies next month, an easing of restrictions after four years that could boost international box-office sales.
- China will allow the release of two of Disney's latest Marvel movies in February.
- "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" and "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" will be the first Marvel Studios films to be shown in China since 2019.
- The approval of Disney films once again in China could lead to hundreds of millions in additional ticket sales.
- Chinese authorities have tightened restrictions on American films in the last several years amid increasing political tensions between the two countries.
The films slated for Chinese release are "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" and "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania." The Black Panther film, which has already grossed about $837 million since its release in November, will reach theaters in China on Feb. 7, while Ant-Man will arrive there on Feb. 17, the same day it's set for U.S. release.
Chinese authorities haven't permitted Marvel films since 2019's "Avengers: Endgame" and "Spider-Man: Far From Home." The de facto ban over the last several years on additional movies in the Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and Shang-Chi franchises may have cost Disney hundreds of millions in ticket sales.
The easing may extend beyond the Marvel universe. In December, authorities allowed the Chinese release of "Avatar: The Way of Water" on the same day the film was made available globally. The box-office take in China for that film has already surpassed $221 million. Superhero films from other studios could be next; Warner Bros. Discovery Inc.'s (WBD) "Shazam! Fury of the Gods" has also received permission for release in China at an unspecified date.
Growing political tension between China and the U.S. in recent years coincided with a tightening of censorship controls within China's movie industry. At the same time, COVID-19 lockdowns across the country hampered box office draws, which are estimated to be only about 30 billion yuan ($4.5 billion) for 2022. This figure is expected to almost double in 2023.
The thawing comes early in the second tenure of Robert Iger, Disney's CEO from 2005 to 2020 and again starting in November. Iger has made sweeping changes to Disney's streaming business while also fending off a proxy battle by activist investor Nelson Peltz, whose investment firm owns about $900 million in Disney stock and is seeking a seat on the company's board. The earliest evidence of the impact of Iger's leadership will come with Disney's financial report for the first quarter of 2023, due Feb. 8.