January 20, 2010 / 2:00 PM / 10 years ago

China says "Avatar" most successful film at $80 million

BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Wednesday called the box office smash “Avatar” the country’s most successful film, grossing almost $80 million, after denying earlier it had forced the sci-fi spectacular out of local cinemas.

Avatar has topped previous title holder “2012” since its release in China on January 4, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television’s film bureau director told China’s official Xinhua news agency. The film “2012” brought in about $67 million yuan last year, Xinhua said.

A move to take down the 2D version of “Avatar” was a commercial decision and that the 3D version would still be shown, China said earlier in the day.

Chinese media have speculated that James Cameron’s blockbuster, which has grossed more than $1.6 billion worldwide, had been pulled to make way for domestic movies over the upcoming Chinese new year, including a biopic on the philosopher, Confucius.

Many Chinese theatres will pull the 2D version of “Avatar” from Friday to make way for “Confucius”, though the wildly popular 3D version will still be available.

“Whether a movie closes or not, it’s a market behavior decision,” an official at the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television told Reuters. “The government will not interfere.”

The watchdog’s deputy chief, Zhang Hongsen, went further in comments quoted by Chinese media.

“The box office performance of the 2D version has not been great, whereas it’s been really hard to get tickets for the 3D version,” Zhang said. “So it’s normal to take the 2D version off the screens. There’ll be no change for the 3D version.”

“Avatar” is already widely available on pirated DVD in China.

Twentieth Century Fox said the studio hoped people would still be able to see the film at the cinema.

“As of today, January 19, ‘Avatar’ is still playing in cinemas nationwide in China. Twentieth Century Fox hopes that cinema-goers in China will continue to have the opportunity to see this film, which has been enthusiastically embraced by audiences there and throughout the world,” it said in a statement.

Zhang did say that perhaps there was a connection with the new Confucius movie, staring Hong Kong’s Chow Yun-fat and mainland Chinese actress Zhou Xun.

“Perhaps it’s because that ‘Confucius’ is just coming out, but ‘Confucius’ has no 3D version, so there ought not to be any conflict,” Zhang said.

There is an unwritten rule in China that at certain times of the year, such as the Spring Festival or National Day in October, that Chinese movies have to be given precedence at the theater.

China allows in only 20 foreign movies every year to be shown on the big screen, but widespread piracy means that even the most sensitive films can be bought for around $1 on the street, irrespective of any official ban.

($1=6.827 Yuan)

Reporting by Yu Le, Ben Blanchard, Ralph Jennings and Bob Tourtellotte in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Tarrant

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