China's movie blackout period explained

We explain why there's a shortage of new foreign films this month

Unbreakable Spirit
Noticed that there's a shortage of new foreign films coming out this month? That's not an accident. Every year around this time, the government enforces an unofficial block on new foreign movie releases. We've got the answers to any questions you may have about this.

Why can't I catch the latest Hollywood blockbusters right now?
The amount of foreign films that can be released in Chinese cinemas every year is already limited to a few dozen, but the government also halts new foreign film releases during the lucrative Chinese New Year and summer holidays every year.

Why are they doing this to me?
Calm down, it's only for a few weeks. Anyway, the government wants Chinese films to do well in the Chinese box office. They're afraid that if they don't have a period without competition, they'll be outperformed by Hollywood. The blackout period gives Chinese films a chance to thrive without worrying about audiences flocking to the latest Marvel movie instead.

Does that actually work?
It seems to. A lot of the biggest Chinese hits have come out at times when there was little or no competition from Hollywood. Wu Jing's mega-hit Wolf Warrior 2 – currently the highest-grossing Chinese film of all time – came out during last year's summer blackout period. The most popular Chinese film after that, Operation Red Sea, came out earlier this year during Chinese New Year, when there also weren't many foreign movies in cinemas.

wolf warrior 2
Wolf Warrior 2. Image: Beijing Dongfang International Cultural Communications Company.

Okay, so what are the official dates for when the policy's in effect?
Whoa whoa whoa, hold on there. Nobody said this was official policy. There's no official policy for this. There just happens to be one or two prime periods a year when no new foreign movies get released, and that's exactly when the biggest Chinese blockbusters come out. Pure coincidence, we're sure. Anyway, this month, and next, look pretty light on foreign releases with only Skyscraper (set in Hong Kong), The Meg (starring Chinese actors Bingbing Li, Shuya Cai and Winston Chao) and Unbreakable Spirit (a film about the Japanese bombing of Chongqing during World War II starring Bruce Willis) as the only international films creeping through. We can't think of why.

But I want to watch a movie! What am I supposed to do now?
Go watch a Chinese film in cinemas, catch an indie flick at Camera Stylo or Cinker Pictures, Youku and chill... the possibilities are literally (well, figuratively) endless.

By Aaron Fox-Lerner

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