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‘Avatar 2’ Gets Rare China Release Extension Over Lunar New Year Holiday (Exclusive)

James Cameron’s Avatar 2 had the bad luck of releasing in China, the world’s second-biggest film market, just as a devastating wave of COVID-19 infection was engulfing the country. Now, it’s getting a little good luck.

Beijing’s film regulators on Tuesday granted the Disney tentpole a rare release extension to run on Chinese screens for an additional 30 days, two sources in Beijing with knowledge of the decision tell The Hollywood Reporter.

China’s film import system grants foreign films permission to screen in the country for 30-day blocks. Avatar 2 launched in China day-and-date with North America on Dec. 16, so its original release was set to expire on Jan. 15. The film has earned just shy of $200 million in the country, Hollywood’s best local performance of the pandemic era, but much less than was originally forecast, due to the ongoing COVID outbreak.

Avatar 2 will undoubtedly see its screen share plummet when a slew of high-profile Chinese tentpoles release on Jan. 22, the first day of the week-long Chinese New Year holiday period. The most high-profile among the new batch of Chinese contenders is The Wandering Earth 2, a prequel to China’s first domestic sci-fi blockbuster, which earned $700 million in 2019. But even if Cameron’s epic can retain a small slice of China’s massive movie exhibition outlay over the holiday, it could generate tens of millions in additional ticket revenue, insiders say. The film has boasted inordinately high social scores among Chinese viewers — 9.1/10 on leading local ticketing apps Maoyan and Taopiaopiao, and 8/10 from influential reviews page Douban — and Cameron’s event movies have a reputation for slow builds and long holds.

Film figures in Beijing contacted by THR on Tuesday said they were shocked by the Film Bureau’s late call to give Avatar 2 additional time. While Hollywood films occasionally score release extensions, Beijing usually blocks all foreign films from screening during China’s important national holidays, giving the domestic industry free rein at the box office. Hollywood has long protested such release “black-outs” as anti-competitive and contrary to China’s World Trade Organization obligations — always to no avail.

“It’s a weird decision,” said one exhibition executive when asked how much screen share Avatar 2 might be expected to hold during the holiday. “We don’t know,” they added.

A representative for Disney in Asia confirmed the release extension Tuesday evening.



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