China clears ‘Dark Knight,’ Spidey showdown

Censors let batpic in; now WB tries to dodge Sony's 'The Amazing Spider-Man'

BEIJING – “The Dark Knight Rises” evaded Chinese censors, but now faces a playdate with “The Amazing Spider-Man,” a box-office showdown that Warner Bros. is still working to avoid.

No dates have been officially set for either superhero pic. But China is looking to extend a blackout period on foreign films to boost poorly performing domestic fare, leaving only a small window for foreign movies — and setting up the logjam that the Los Angeles Times first identified in a Wednesday report.

Biz sources say Chinese authorities are planning to run both Sony’s webslinger reboot and Warners’ trilogy finale Aug. 30. But Warner Bros. is lobbying for a September release date for “Rises,” other sources tell Variety.

Even if they get it, Batman may face Chinese resistance:That month, President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao will hand over to expected successors Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang. The power transition is a sensitive time in Chinese politics, often accompanied by restrictions on media and entertainment.

Neither studio had any immediate comment on the situation.

Variety reported earlier Thursday that “Rises” still faced the hurdle of Chinese censors, but in fact the approval had come at least a couple of days ago, kicking off discussions about moving it away from “Spider-Man.”

Many release dates in China are set by the state-owned China Film Group. A “film protection month” announced by the government’s State Administration of Radio, Film and TV will be extended into August, according to local press reports.

Universal’s “The Lorax” and Fox’s “Ice Age: Continental Drift” are expected to go forward with their current July 27 release dates, as the ban typically doesn’t affect animated fare.

“SARFT is making a series of transitional protection measures, which we hope can provide for the development and growth of Chinese films by supporting their roots, and increasing their ability to defend themselves against imported films,” said Zhang Hongsen, vice head of SARFT’s Film Bureau.

He said he hoped that one day Chinese auds would tire of American robots and superheroes. Zhang was quoted in the People’s Daily newspaper, the hugely influential official organ of the ruling Communist Party.

In February, China agreed to raise the import quota by an additional 14 enhanced format films each year and up the revenue share with studios from somewhere around 16% to 25%.

Data for the period since Jun. 28 showed that B.O. receipts were 1.1 billion yuan ($170 million), of which just $160,000 was made by domestic movies.

Wu Hehu, deputy chief manager of Shanghai’s SFG United Circuit, which accounts for 10% of the Chinese cinema market, said he had not seen the screening list for August but the blackout of foreign movies for the month was helping Chinese movies.

“Chinese films have happy, easy days without Hollywood movies,” said Wu.

Chinese B.O. by end June was $1.27 billion, compared to $890 million in the same period last year. Of this, imported movies took $830 million, while Chinese films only took around $440 million, about one third of the B.O.

Nine of the top 10 movies were overseas pics, including the 3D release of “Titanic,” which grossed $153 million in China, the biggest-earning movie so far this year. Others are “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” “Battleship,” “The Avengers” and “Men in Black 3.”

The top performing region in terms of B.O. was Guangdong in the south, followed by Beijing, Jiangsu, Shanghai and Zhejiang province.