It’s no secret that the Chinese film market is a lucrative sector for the film industry. Chinese ticket sales drive up the global box office numbers for movies more than almost any other market. China’s population is over 1.4 billion, which means showing a movie there is an almost surefire way of turning a major profit. Studios will negotiate with the Chinese government and work with them to make sure that their films pass the censorship regulations in order to show movies in Chinese theaters. Missing out on the Chinese film market could result in a significant loss in revenue for a studio, which is especially worse for movies with higher budgets. The combined revenue generated between the United States and China alone is enough to set a movie up for complete financial success.
Since the margin for profit in China is so expansive, Hollywood studios will do just about anything to get past the strict censorship laws that the government there has put in place. The Chinese government’s censorship laws determine whether the content of a film is appropriate and can dictate when or how a movie can be released. The government will restrict any movie it deems contrary to Chinese moral and cultural norms, or anything that goes against the country’s official beliefs. Studios have had to make significant changes to many of their movies over the years to secure a Chinese release. Some of these changes are more obvious than others, and some have actually affected a movie’s storyline. Some of the changes have even affected the American release of films. Here are ten changes that were made to movies, so they could be released in China:
10 The Shape of Water (2017)
Guillermo Del Toro’s fantasy romance The Shape of Water was a surprising hit when it was released in 2017. It even went on to win four Oscars in 2018, including Best Picture and Best Achievement in Directing. The film is set during the ’60s at a secret government research facility where a lonely employee named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) discovers a classified experiment and ends up forming a connection with the creature.
Despite its critical success, the romantic relationship that forms between Elisa and the Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) was not as successful in China. In an important scene regarding their emotional connection, Elisa stands nude before the creature. The scene was edited for the Chinese audience by putting a dark dress over, similar to how a dress was edited onto Florence Pugh’s body in an intimate scene in Oppenheimer this year.
9 Red Dawn (2012)
The 2012 remake of the ’80s action flick Red Dawn is one of the movies that actually had to change a piece of its premise in order to secure a Chinese theatrical release. The movie follows a group of friends with military backgrounds who unite to form a guerrilla resistance group after a foreign paratrooper invasion overtakes their city. The 1984 film had the Soviet Union invading, but in 2012 that would not have made sense.
The remake intended to have the foreign paratroopers be Chinese to better reflect the modern political landscape. Late in development, however, studio executives thought that the Chinese film market was too important in generating revenue, so the antagonists were changed to North Korean soldiers to not offend a country that was vital for making money. The Chinese flags were digitally changed to North Korean flags and certain plot points were reworked to reflect the country of the new antagonists.
8 Skyfall (2012)
Similarly to Red Dawn, the third installment of Daniel Craig’s James Bond series had to undergo some changes when it came to whom the antagonists were. Skyfall sees MI6 compromised both internally and externally, and it is up to Agent 007 to track down and destroy the threat at any cost. There were some scenes that showed Bond fighting off Chinese villains, which are shown in the American cut of the movie. In China, these scenes were entirely cut from the movie. It certainly doesn’t affect the plot of the movie, but it is not the first time a Bond film has had to remove scenes depicting Chinese characters. Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace also had to adhere to regulations that Chinese characters could not be depicted as weak or easily defeated, even by a highly skilled assassin such as Bond.
7 Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)
Action movies typically do well in China, and the Transformers franchise is no exception. The movie series about vehicles transforming into powerful Autobots bodes well with moviegoers in the country. Still, the fourth movie in the franchise and the first to star Mark Wahlberg was not exempt from studio changes due to Chinese involvement. This time, it wasn’t due to censorship, but rather partnership. Paramount Studios partnered with two Chinese companies, China Movie Channel and Jiaflix, to help with the production and marketing of Transformers: Age of Extinction overseas. A good portion of the movie is filmed in Hong Kong, which is a direct influence of China’s involvement with the movie. Another direct result of the Chinese partnership was the frequent product placement of Chinese items, such as the Chinese version of Red Bull or a popular soy milk drink called Vitasoy.
6 Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)
In the third installment of the franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End follows Captain Barbossa (Geoffery Rush), Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), and Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley) as they sail off the map to find Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). The movie explores the differing ways of various pirate fleets, which includes a portion of the movie that takes place in Singapore where the main characters are led by a pirate captain named Sao Feng. Chinese actor Chow Yun Fat was cast to play Captain Feng, who Western audiences may know from movies such as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, but his acting roots are embedded in the Hong Kong film industry. This would make him an ideal actor to cast for Chinese audiences, but all of his scenes were cut from the Chinese release due to the government deeming that Captain Feng was a racist stereotype of Asian people. The Chinese film board also was not enthusiastic about Captain Feng having villainous character traits, which led to the erasure of the character.
5 World War Z (2013)
The Brad Pitt-led action horror movie World War Z had its fair share of problems during production. The zombie apocalypse movie received numerous rewrites and script changes throughout filming o the point that it hardly resembled the original script. The end product follows Pitt’s Gerry Lane as he traverses the world in a race against time to stop the zombie pandemic that is crippling governments and armies before it destroys the human race. One of the many changes the film underwent was the removal of all references to China was one of them. The filmmakers and studio did not want to run the potential risk of portraying the country in a negative light.
4 Doctor Strange (2016)
Long before the film was actually released, there was much online discussion and debate about the changes made to Doctor Strange. In the comics, the character called the Ancient One is typically depicted as a Tibetan character, so the decision to cast Tilda Swinton in the role led to some heated controversy surrounding the movie. In addition to changing the origin of the Ancient One, Marvel Studios also changed the location of Strange’s spiritual sanctuary Kamar-Taj from Tibet to Nepal also stirred up some mixed feelings about the many changes the movie made.
The sovereignty of Tibet is a complicated topic that Marvel undoubtedly wanted to steer clear from. The potential revenue earned from the Chinese film market is too promising for Marvel to ignore, and it didn’t sit well with fans that the studio would change so many aspects of a characters origins to appease one market.
3 Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
Queen is one of the most beloved and respected rock bands in the world, and frontman Freddie Mercury was an icon to many. The Freddie Mercury/Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, titled after one of their most famous songs, depicts the early life of Mercury all the way to the band’s infamous Live Aid concert in 1985. The film was a critical and commercial success, and was nominated for five Oscars and won four, including Best Actor for Rami Malek’s portrayal of Mercury. It is known to most people that Mercury was a gay man, and so the film does explore his sexuality and his journey with it.
Any mention of Mercury’s sexuality or scenes showing him with another man were completely removed in the Chinese cut of the film. Removing these mentions and scenes drastically alters Mercury’s identity and story, which makes the Chinese cut of the film really about Queen’s journey and not Mercury’s.
2 Titanic (1997)
James Cameron’s epic three-hour historical romance Titanic is still massively popular among movie fans 26 years later. Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) are two of the most well-known film characters and one of the most beloved movie couples of all time. There are many memorable scenes in the movie given how long it is, but one of the most iconic scenes occurs after Rose asks Jack to paint her like one of his French girls. China has a very strict, zero-tolerance policy on nudity of any kind, so the shot in which Rose’s breasts are exposed was removed entirely from the Chinese theatrical cut.
1 Iron Man 3 (2013)
Similarly to Doctor Strange, Marvel Studios changed the backstory for Iron Man 3‘s villain in order to get past Chinese censors. One of Iron Man’s more prominent villains in the comic books is of Asian descent, so for the movie version of the character, they changed his nationality by casting British actor Ben Kingsley. The movie version of the character is not only played by a white actor with vaguely Middle-Easter iconography surrounding him, but the major twist regarding the villain was drastically different from anything in the source material.
Marvel ensured that there was no possibility of upsetting the Chinese government with their alterations to the Mandarin, and even went as far as to add new scenes specifically for the Chinese theatrical release featuring well-known Chinese actors. Actress Fan Bingbing was even cast as one of the doctors who operated on Tony. While there was certainly controversy surrounding Marvel’s decision to change the Mandarin, the villain twist halfway through was actually well done.