Marvel Studios has been shut out of China this year and box-office data shows how much it’s hurt the MCU

Richard Madden in 'Eternals.'
Richard Madden in ‘Eternals.’ Marvel Studios
  • No MCU movies have been approved for release in China this year.
  • It’s had a big impact on their global box-office hauls.
  • Marvel movies have performed well in China and “Avengers: Endgame” is its biggest Hollywood release ever.

Marvel Cinematic Universe movies are some of the biggest movies of the year – at least in the US.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and “Black Widow” are the No. 1 and No. 3 movies of the year at the domestic box office, respectively. “Eternals,” while underwhelming for an MCU entry, debuted over the weekend with the fourth biggest opening of the pandemic with $US71 ($AU97) million.

But it’s another story entirely in China, which surpassed the US last year as the world’s biggest box office. None of those MCU movies have been released in the region, where the government must approve all foreign films for release.

“Shang-Chi” faced early controversy over the character’s comic-book history; when first introduced in 1973, Shang-Chi’s father was Fu Manchu, a character considered to have perpetuated racist Asian stereotypes. Shang-Chi’s origin story has been rewritten several times over the decades since.

Then 2017 comments, made by star Simu Liu, resurfaced on Chinese social media, in which Liu called China a “third-world” country.

Simu Liu Shang-Chi
Simu Liu plays Shang-Chi. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Similarly, “Eternals” director Chloé Zhao, who was born in China, faced criticism from Chinese nationalists over a 2013 interview in which she said “there are lies everywhere” in the country.

The controversies and lack of releases reflect a “widespread tightening” of the China film market and Chinese media by the government, according to Aynne Kokas, a media studies professor at the University of Virginia and the author of the book “Hollywood Made in China.” She predicted fewer Hollywood films would be released in China in the future, and those that are approved will face stricter regulations.

Marvel movies have typically performed very well in China. “Avengers: Endgame” is the biggest Hollywood release at the China box office of all time. But the media crackdown has impacted this year’s Marvel movies. “Eternals” in particular could have benefited from the China box office, as it will likely struggle in the coming weeks against poor reviews and audience reaction.

There could still be good news for the MCU in China before year’s end, though.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which hits theaters later this year and is a coproduction between Disney’s Marvel Studios and Sony, could be the first pandemic-era MCU film to be released in the region. A new Chinese poster was released for the movie this week, though a release date hasn’t been set, according to Variety.

Here’s every previous MCU movie, ranked by how much money they made at the Chinese box office (per IMDb data):

  1. “Avengers: Endgame” (2019) – $US629.1 ($AU861) million
  2. “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018) – $US359.5 ($AU492) million
  3. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015) – $US240.1 ($AU329) million
  4. “Spider-Man: Far From Home” (2019) – $US199 ($AU272) million
  5. “Captain America: Civil War” (2016) – $US180.8 ($AU248) million
  6. “Captain Marvel” (2019) – $US154.07 ($AU211) million
  7. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” (2018) – $US121.203 million
  8. “Iron Man 3” (2013) – $US121.200 million
  9. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017) – $US116.3 ($AU159) million
  10. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” – $US115.6 ($AU158) million
  11. “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017) – $US112.2 ($AU154) million
  12. “Doctor Strange” (2016) – $US109.2 ($AU150) million
  13. “Ant-Man” (2015) – $US105.3 ($AU144) million
  14. “Black Panther” (2018) – $US105.1 ($AU144) million
  15. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” (2017) – $US100.7 ($AU138) million
  16. “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014) – $US86.35 ($AU118) million
  17. “The Avengers” (2012) – $US86.30 ($AU118) million
  18. “Thor: The Dark World” (2013) – $US55.3 ($AU76) million
  19. “Iron Man” (2008) – $US15.2 ($AU21) million
  20. “The Incredible Hulk” (2008) – $US9.3 ($AU13) million
  21. “Iron Man 2” (2010) – $US7.9 ($AU11) million
  22. “Thor” (2011) – No data available
  23. “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) – No data available