Here’s Why a Chinese Release For ‘Gravity’ Was in Doubt

(Source Warner Bros.)

Weeks of speculation as to whether Warner Bros.’s (NYSE:TWX) Gravity would be accepted for distribution in China — the second-largest film market — ended earlier this week when China’s state-backed Beijing News reported that the Film Bureau had approved Alfonso Cuaron’s space epic for release.

As the Hollywood Reporter explains, a Chinese release of Warner Bros.’s sci-fi hit had been somewhat in doubt due to China’s policy of only allowing 34 American films to be released per year — a quota that is nearly filled — and the country’s position of not generally accepting films that celebrate U.S. achievements in space. However, the Reporter theorizes that a scene in Gravity that shows Sandra Bullock’s character finding refuge on a Chinese ship along with various nods to Chinese space technology might have ultimately led to the film’s go-ahead.

While space programs in the West have generally not received much attention since the space race during the Cold War era, China’s space program has increasingly become a symbol of the country’s growing technological prowess. China first launched a man into space in 2003 and followed the successful venture with a two-man mission in 2005 and a three-man mission in 2008 — the latter of which featured China’s first space walk. China became the third country after Russia and the United States to successfully achieve independent space travel.

China has been forced to pursue their space missions because the country has been refused permission to join the 16-country International Space Program, mostly as a result of the United States’ worries of military secrets being stolen by China. Earlier this month, there was considerable controversy when NASA did not allow Chinese scientists to attend a conference in California.

As for China’s annual foreign film quota, the practice has been the subject of notable scorn from American film studios in recent months as China has made it increasingly hard for non-Chinese films to find success.

Along with the country’s 34-film quota, China also practices scheduling strategies so that foreign films end up competing with other foreign films, reducing competition for domestically produced films. An overseas studio source told the Reporter, “The Chinese have done a great job of marginalizing our movies while pushing their own.”

In the first half of 2013, box office revenue for domestic movies in China overtook foreign productions and of the 146 films screened in the country, 117 were domestic productions. Overall, domestic film revenue was up 124 percent compared to the same period on 2012.

But Warner Bros. is likely to ease off the criticism of Chinese distribution for the time being as Gravity is sure to find a strong box office in the country. The studio has already found notable success at the Chinese box office this year with its blockbuster monster film Pacific Rim grossing almost $112 million, making it the second-highest grossing American film this year behind Disney’s (NYSE:DIS) Iron Man 3. Check out the trailer for Warner Bros.’ Gravity below.

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