David Ayer’s Suicide Squad is set to hit theaters around the globe this weekend, but the world’s most populous nation — and No. 2 movie market — probably won’t be joining the party anytime soon.
The Warner Bros. tentpole has yet to receive a release date in China, and sources close to the decision-making process in Beijing say it appears increasingly unlikely to get the official nod.
According to people familiar with the matter, China Film Group, the state-backed distributor that handles the import of all foreign films, hasn’t put the movie on its internal release calendar, which is typically set at least two months in advance. “They think this is not a good film to release in China,” a Chinese executive said without elaborating.
Chinese DC fans have been speculating online for months about whether Suicide Squad would get past Beijing’s censorship committee. Thanks to its friendlier PG-13 rating, the movie had raised hopes that it would escape the fate of Fox’s similarly toned “anti-superhero” hit Deadpool, which was effectively precluded from release in China due to its violence and graphic language.
Not surprisingly, Warner Bros. tweaked Suicide Squad‘s local-language title. In Chinese, it’s “X???,” which translates to “Special Task Force X” (X marks the suicide, it would seem). Many have wondered whether the movie’s dark and anarchic tone would still rub the censors the wrong way, though. The story, from a script by Ayer, follows a group of incarcerated supervillains — played by Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis and others — who are released by a secret government agency to save the world from a dangerous threat. China’s official censorship guidelines state that stories “propagating passive or negative outlook on life, worldview and value system” are disallowed. Exactly how that applies to comic book baddies turned snarky world saviors remains to be seen.
China has no ratings system, so the country’s media regulator, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), makes a judgment on all film imports, approving or banning them for consumption by Chinese viewers of all ages.
The Chinese box office has become an increasingly important piece of the international distribution map for the big six Hollywood studios. Suicide Squad cost at least $175 million to make. The biggest Hollywood films in China so far this year are Disney’s Zootopia at $235.5 million, Legendary Entertainment’s Warcraft with $221 million and Marvel/Disney’s Captain America: Civil War with $190.4 million.
At the same time, Hollywood gets far less back from the Chinese box office — 20 to 25 percent — than it does from other markets (40 to 50 percent is common in other territories around the world).
If Suicide Squad still does manage to squeak through the system to score a China release, it will be conspicuously late in coming. China’s regulators typically notify the studios of the local release dates for their films 30 to 45 days in advance. And although they have manipulated Hollywood dates to local advantage in the past, for most of this year, U.S. films have opened in China simultaneously or well within a month of their North American debut. And with the Chinese box office experiencing a surprising slowdown this summer, regulators have been easing restrictions rather than increasing them.
Warner Bros. declined comment.
Pamela McClintock contributed to this report.