Alfonso Cuaron in Beijing: 'Gravity' China References Not 'Some Marketing Ploy'

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Alfonso Cuaron

The director tells local press that he developed the film in 2008, before the country's box-office boom, and explains why he included a Chinese space station.

Alfonso Cuaron has been on the promotional path this week in China, hyping his hit space epic Gravity, which opened there Tuesday.

By Monday, Gravity had already reached $515 million at the worldwide box office, continuing to surpass expectations for the Warner Bros 3D space spectacle. A strong showing in China -- where heavy government promotion of the country's nascent space industry in recent years has primed the market for such a picture -- could push Gravity into the worldwide top five of 2013 (currently, it's the No. 7 title of the year).

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Speculation over Gravity's scenes involving a Chinese space station has followed the film since its domestic release in October. Near the film's climax, Sandra Bullock, as astronaut Ryan Stone, takes refuge in the Chinese space station Tiangong and makes her successful escape to Earth aboard the space ship Shenzhou. Many have wondered whether the choice of a Chinese vessel might have been included as a bit of built-in marketing to increase the movie's chances of landing a successful release in China, now the world's second largest movie market.

Facing a Chinese press corps grown suspicious of being pandered to for market access, Cuaron was adamant that his storyline had nothing to do with winning over their country's film regulators and fans.

"When we were mapping out the story, we had to base it upon elements in space at the time," state mouthpiece People's Daily quoted the director as saying.

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"We had the Hubble Space Telescope, the International Space Stations, Tiangong and Shenzhou. That's what was in space; and this is way before China became sexy for the Hollywood box office."

Cuaron said he started drafting the story of Gravity in 2008, when China's annual box office was just $680 million (in the first nine months of 2013, the China box office had already hit $2.7 billion).

"I know films that at the end of things incorporate Chinese elements just for the market, he added, but in the case of Gravity, the original storyline was [for Ryan Stone to move] from the Hubble Space Telescope to the ISS, to the Tiangong, because that's what existed in space at that time."