For years the Chinese box office has been key to any major film production's international distribution strategy. China is the second largest market for movies in the world which means that any movie looking make money is going to need to do well in China. However, because the state manages the amount of foreign movies that can be released in the nation, not every movie even has a chance. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is currently without a Chinese release despite previous success for Marvel in China, but the news is better for both James Bond and Dune.
While Marvel Studios looks like it may be shut out of China for all of 2021, Deadline reports the nation has now given release dates to both No Time to Die, which will open October 29, and Dune, which will open a week earlier on October 22. These are the first big Hollywood movies to see release dates in China since Free Guy. At this point it seems clear that both Shang-Chi and Black Widow are out of luck when it comes to getting Chinese release dates. In the case of the more recent movie there have been some questions as to whether negative comments about China previously made by Simu Liu could have something to do with the decision.
Both No Time To Die and Dune are expected to do well when they open in China. James Bond has global appeal, it's part of the reason the movie was first delayed back in early 2020. The global pandemic hadn't forced theaters to close in the U.S. yet, but the decision was made to delay the film because theaters were closed in so many other nations that it would have had a serious impact on the film's total gross in a way that other films wouldn't have necessarily worried about.
Dune will also be a science fiction spectacle, and those tend to do well in China. It's part of the reason that the Marvel movies have tended to do so well in China, and why Avatar did so well there, and even made several million more during a re-release last year.
The international slots in China are all the more important because of the fact that the domestic box office is still a bit wild. While people certainly are returning to theaters, it's not in the numbers they once did. Dune will be released on HBO Max domestically alongside its theatrical release, and while it's difficult to know how much that really eats into the movie's box office potential here, it certainly does something.
Chinese box office certainly isn't back to its pre-pandemic numbers either, but every dollar counts at this point as studios need to find ways for the movies to make their money back.
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