Chinese cinemas are currently packed with people and movies local to the country are bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars, beating out Hollywood blockbusters. It’s a market that any blockbuster hopeful to make hundreds of millions, or even a billion dollars, needs to break into. And now, Marvel movies in China are hitting roadblocks. This happened with Disney’s Mulan, it happened with Marvel’s Shang-Chi, and now, according to the Wall Street Journal, it’s happening with Eternals. Why is China possibly going to possibly stop the release of Eternals in their movie theaters? This time, it appears to be past comments from the Marvel movie’s director.
Eternals is a project from Chloe Zhao. The filmmaker is an Oscar-winner, so in a lot of communities, her name makes people want to see the movie. Actors like Salma Hayek have talked about signing on for Eternals in large part because of the filmmaker attached to the project. But for Marvel, it’s going to make China a difficult market to break into.
Chloe Zhao has lived in the United States for over twenty years, but she was born in China, specifically, Beijing. She doesn’t talk about her home country a lot publicly, but in years of interviews, it’s come up a few times. Those comments have been examined very carefully. Surprisingly, it’s enough to make her Marvel release a giant question for China. In an interview she did with Filmmaker in 2013, which has since been archived but reported on by Deadline, the Eternals director reportedly said that China is a country “where there are lies everywhere”. There were also comments made in a 2020 Australian interview that have been disputed. Initially, the report claimed she’d said she was “now” an American. It has since been clarified that she said she was really “not” an American. This clarification isn’t often mentioned though and the first report was wildly circulated in China. These comments are enough to make big problems for Marvel in China when it comes to the Eternals theatrical release.
This is a big roadblock for Marvel, but not one they haven’t seen coming. Previously, Marvel hit a wall in China with Shang-Chi after previous comments from star Simu Liu surfaced online. While the actor’s parents are from China, he is Canadian. During a 2017 interview, he reportedly made comments about the poverty his parents experienced living under communist rule in the country. Those comments gained a lot of attention in online circles in the country. Then, outlets claimed that the Chinese government felt that his character in the movie wasn’t an accurate depiction of a Chinese person, and so, they came down against releasing the film.
Major blockbusters aim for huge numbers. A Wes Anderson movie might pull in a staggering $170 million at the box office. That’s a whole lot of money and makes his movies profitable for Hollywood studios. But they’re not in the same league as a franchise earner like Marvel, DC, or Fast & Furious. A Marvel blockbuster has the potential to cross the billion-dollar mark, which is a whole other ball game. Matt Damon has pointed out that these movies have to be simple enough stories to avoid cultural confusion, which is true. But when it comes to gaining traction at the box office in some countries, there are even more barriers than that. Especially when it comes to releasing a Marvel movie in China.
Some outlets have speculated that this may make Hollywood studios less likely to want to work with actors or filmmakers that mainland China may block from their theaters. Whether it changes decisions inside Marvel or not, seeing that a Marvel release was blocked in China may affect the decisions other studios make. There is a lot of speculation happening on how the Chinese box office is affecting Hollywood decisions. Eternals is certainly going to be a major part of that ongoing conversation.