China’s unofficial ban on Marvel movies will finally be lifted next month with the 2/7 release of BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER followed ten days later on 2/17 by ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA. This marks the end of a three-year hiatus from China for Marvel titles, which limited Disney’s earnings on these films. In fact, no Marvel movie has topped $1 billion worldwide at the box office since 2019.
China is currently the second-largest theatrical market in the world, with approximately 80,000 cinema screens. The last three years have taken it on a roller coaster ride, rising to become the top-grossing global market due to the relative success of the Chinese government at the outset of the pandemic in controlling the spread of COVID and a strong slate of domestic releases.
However, the government’s zero-tolerance, zero-COVID policies to control the virus have led to rolling shutdowns throughout the country, halting moviegoing among many other public activities. The Chinese box office fell 36% in 2022 to $4.6 billion, which allowed the U.S. to retake its position as the world’s largest theatrical market.
Now that COVID restrictions have been loosened, Chinese exhibitors are sorely in need of content that will attract moviegoers back to theatres. This may explain the sudden willingness of the government’s China Film Administration to lift its three-year ban on Marvel titles, which had previously drawn large audiences to local cinemas.