"The Dark Knight Rises," "The Amazing Spider-Man"… (Warner Bros. / Sony Pictures…)
Hollywood tentpoles "The Dark Knight Rises," "The Amazing Spider-Man" and "Prometheus" will all open in a single week in China as the communist country takes its most aggressive step yet to limit the box office of American imports.
Though it first became clear last month that the state-owned China Film Group intended to open the two superhero films on the same day, Warner Bros. had been lobbying to delay the release of its "Dark Knight Rises" until September. That effort failed, as both movies have now been officially dated for Aug. 27.
Adding to the competition for the limited number of screens and moviegoers' attention, China Film has dated the Ridley Scott-directed science-fiction movie "Prometheus" for Sept. 3, just one week later.
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Executives at "Prometheus" studio 20th Century Fox, Warner and "Spider-Man" studio Sony Pictures are undoubtedly frustrated by China Film's decision, which could lower their box-office totals in the second biggest movie market in the world. None would speak publicly, however, for fear of offending officials there.
Earlier this month, China Film opened the 3-D animated films "Ice Age: Continental Drift" and "The Lorax" on the same day. While "Ice Age" has grossed a healthy $51 million in the country, "Lorax" was decimated by the competition, opening to less than $1 million.
In addition, China Film is considering opening thrillers "The Bourne Legacy" and "Total Recall" on the same date in September.
Authorities have been matching movies against each other in an effort to reduce their total ticket sales and limit the dominance of American movies at the box office so far this year.
In the first six months of 2012, the box-office revenues for Chinese-made films dropped 4.3% compared with the same period from last year to $439 million, according to a report in China Daily. Ticket sales for foreign pictures, meanwhile, are up 90%, to $825 million.
"We hope those protective measures will be able to create a space for domestic movies to survive and grow," Zhang Hongsen, deputy head of the film bureau controlled by the State Administration of Radio Film and Television, told the state-owned People's Daily newspaper. "We hope the measures can provide domestic movies some fundamental support and enhance their abilities to compete against the imported blockbusters."
'Bourne Legacy,' 'Total Recall' may face off in China
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'Ice Age: Continental Drift' clobbers 'The Lorax' in their China face-off