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'Avatar' pulled from 1,628 Chinese movie screens

At propaganda officials' urging, 2-D versions are replaced by a biography of Confucius, though 3-D showings continue.

January 19, 2010|By Ben Fritz and David Pierson

Reporting from Los Angeles and Beijing — "Avatar" may be too popular for its own good in China.

The communist nation's state-run movie distributor, China Film Group, unexpectedly began pulling the blockbuster science-fiction picture from 1,628 2-D screens this week in favor of a biography of the ancient philosopher Confucius.

Paul Hanneman, co-president of international distribution for 20th Century Fox, the movie's distributor, confirmed the move, which the studio learned about Monday evening.

According to the Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, the switch was made at the urging of propaganda officials who are concerned that "Avatar" is taking too much market share from Chinese films and drawing unwanted attention to the sensitive issue of forced evictions.

Millions of Chinese have been uprooted to make way for high-rise buildings and government infrastructure projects in the fast-growing country. In "Avatar," human colonists try to demolish the village of an alien race to obtain a precious energy source buried under it.

Although losing the 2-D screens is a blow to the hugely successful "Avatar," which has grossed more than $1.6 billion around the world, it will not knock out the movie's primary revenue source in the country. Nearly 900 3-D screens in China have generated $49 million of its $76 million in ticket sales there so far, according to Fox. It's already the most successful movie of all time in the country, the studio said.

Calls to China Film Group were not returned.

ben.fritz@latimes.com

david.pierson@latimes.com

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