China has the biggest box office market in the world and, as such, it's become a key demographic major Hollywood studios have catered to in the past. Earlier this year, F9 and Godzilla vs. Kong made some money in the Middle Kingdom with their theatrical releases, but it might come as a surprise to hear that Marvel has not seen any green from China this year and may continue to stay dry amidst the worldwide success of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
The latest Marvel film, and the first Asian-led superhero film from the studio, has not been given a release in China and reportedly is not expected to anytime soon, either. One element that could be a factor in the decision relates to its star, Simu Liu, who was born in China before immigrating with his family to Canada at the age of five. A 2017 interview Liu gave with CBC recently resurfaced and his comments about Xi’s China have apparently struck a chord, per Deadline.
At the time, the actor referred to China as a “third world” country where people were “dying of starvation.” Although the interview itself is no longer available online, it recently surfaced on the Chinese social media platform Weibo and led some people to say they would boycott if Shang-Chi was released in China, due to the comments.
That’s not to say Simu Liu is the only reason that Shang-Chi has not and may not get a Chinese release. Marvel’s other recent film, Black Widow, has also skipped release in the Middle Kingdom and does not look to be hitting theaters there any time soon. Out of 2021’s many major studio movies, only a small handful have reached China as of late. Free Guy most recently became the first movie in months from a major Hollywood studio to debut there.
Looking forward, it’s also not looking good for Marvel Studios' Eternals either, which is directed by Chinese-born filmmaker Chloé Zhao. The filmmaker achieved a lot during the Oscars earlier this year, taking home Best Director and Best Picture for Nomadland. The film was ultimately censored on Chinese social media and ignored by its media. In 2013, Zhao reportedly called out the place of her upbringing as a place where “there are lies everywhere.”
Prior to this, Marvel films had a strong relationship with the China box office, with the Middle Kingdom providing 20% of Avengers: Endgame’s record-breaking $2.79 billion gross. Despite Shang-Chi not receiving a Chinese release, the movie has made $166 million worldwide already and has quickly become one of the highest-grossing domestic releases of 2021 after premiering in theaters only Labor Day weekend.
Its success has even inspired Walt Disney Studios to release three more of its upcoming movies exclusively to theaters. That being said, when a major action movie like Shang-Chi skips a Chinese release, it stands to lose a lot of potential money.