Christopher Nolan’s war and action drama “Dunkirk” has been approved by Chinese censors and given a Sept. 1 theatrical release date.
The date means a gap of more than six weeks between the film’s North American outing next week and its Chinese premiere, and adds to mounting evidence that China has restored its unofficial summer blackout period, when only local titles are released.
While several foreign movies are understood to have been cleared by government censors, many have not yet received release dates. These include “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” which is currently on release in most of the world, and Luc Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” which has its global rollout later this month – bar China.
That “Valerian” does not have a confirmed date is particularly disappointing for Besson’s EuropaCorp. Not only is EuropaCorp now substantially owned by China’s Fundamental Films, but the expensive sci-fi thriller also received production finance from Fundamental and features Kris Wu, a star in China, in a prominent role.
The effective summer blackout is set to end Aug. 25 when both “Cars 3” and “Baby Driver” cruise into Chinese multiplexes. “Dunkirk” follows on Sept. 1. The only other U.S. film currently known to have an August release date is “My Other Home,” which goes out Aug. 11, but that film, from Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, has a significant Chinese component in that it was produced by Beijing Forbidden City Film and dramatizes the life of basketball star Stephon Marbury as he discovers China.
Chinese regulators traditionally reserve anywhere between four to six weeks in July and August for local titles, shunning Hollywood fare in order to shore up the Chinese movies’ performance at the box office. The move, along with similar periods during Chinese New Year and late December, allows China to control market share and ensure that Chinese-language films end the year with 55% to 60% of the annual Chinese box office.
The summer blackouts have varied in duration and intensity from year to year. In 2015, to maximize revenues for China’s “Monster Hunt,” the blackout was prolonged. But last year, when it was becoming increasingly clear that the decade of almost unbroken box-office growth was slowing, the blackout was shortened and Hollywood tentpoles allowed in earlier than usual to keep the turnstiles spinning.
There had been hope in some Hollywood quarters that this summer’s blackout might not be as restrictive as in 2015. That’s because China’s overall box office this year has largely been kept afloat by American titles – Chinese films have largely failed outside of the Chinese New Year bonanza period – and because last year the import quota for foreign movies was substantially eased.
The blackout periods are a contentious point that will be discussed by trade negotiators in the current round of film industry talks between the Chinese and U.S. governments. The talks also cover issues including quotas, revenue share, and distribution conditions.