'Spidey 3' swings into China first

Latest in franchise arrives day before N. American debut

"Spider-Man 3" will premiere in China on May 3, the day before it opens in North America, China's top overseas film import official said Thursday. The move is designed to secure a strong opening at the boxoffice before pirated copies have a chance to flood the market (HR 3/30).

Yuan Wenqiang, president of state-run China Film Group's Film Import & Export Corp., said that releasing Columbia Pictures' "Spider-Man 3" in China first — during the peak moviegoing season around the weeklong national holiday that kicks off May 1 — is a testament to the growing importance of China's theatergoers in the eyes of Hollywood.

"It will be almost a day-and-date release because of the time difference, but China will see 'Spider-Man' first," Yuan said. In-creasingly, Hollywood studios choose to release big films in China on or near their worldwide premiere dates to stem losses from piracy that increase the longer a film is in theaters.

As international day-and-date releases have taken hold, the openings for U.S. films in China have been steadily moving closer to simultaneous release, rather than trailing their U.S. opening dates by months. Several films — including such titles as "The Interpreter," "Star Wars — Episode III: Revenge of the Sith," "The Legend of Zorro" and "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" — have opened on the same date in the U.S. and China.

Near-simultaneous releases in China can result in greater profits at the boxoffice, especially for the China Film Group, which not only is the sole legal importer of overseas films but also has control of the country's largest distribution company. MPA statistics show that of all the optical discs sold in China, about 93% are illegal. Despite government crackdowns, pirated DVDs of first-run movies are widely available.