At long last, Marvel and Walt Disney appear to be getting a break in China. The studio’s superhero tentpoles Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania both have locked down China release dates, ending a de facto three-and-a-half year ban on all Marvel movie releases in the country — a pattern that cost Disney hundreds of millions in potential ticket revenue.
Black Panther 2, which released across the rest of the world in November, will unfurl in China on Feb. 7, followed by Ant-Man 3 on Feb. 17, day-and-date with North America.
Marvel shared the surprise news Tuesday over its official Chinese social media accounts. The two titles will be the very first movies of Marvel’s Phase 4 to screen in China, as the last approved theatrical releases from the studio were Spider-Man: Far From Home and Avengers: Endgame, way back in early/mid-2019. They also will test how the drought of MCU movies over the preceding many months has affected fan sentiment around the franchise.
Ant-Man and The Wasp earned over $121.2 million in China in 2018 and the first Black Panther grossed $105 million that same year.
The long list of Marvel titles that were blocked from release in China over past months included Black Widow, Spider-Man: No Way Home, The Eternals, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder. As is their wont, regulators never officially explained why the movies were denied entry, leaving the industry and commentators to speculate. Leading theories included individual censorship offenses committed by the various films (such as a very brief LGBTQ moment in Thor 4), political transgressions of the director or actors involved in the titles (The Eternals Chinese director Chloé Zhao was criticized in China for past interview statements she made critiquing her home country), an increasingly repressive and nationalistic policy stance under Xi Jinping, growing U.S.-China geopolitical tension, and general tightening of control over civil society surrounding two recent high-profile political events in the country, the 20th National Congress in 2022 and the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party in 2021.
In any case, Hollywood — and Disney, in particular — can breath a sigh of relief that something akin to the pre-pandemic status quo might be returning. The first sign of good news came in late 2022 when China’s Film Bureau granted James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water a day-and-date release with the U.S. in December. Even more surprising, the film later received permission to continue screening for an additional month, meaning its run will extend into China’s Lunar New Year holiday, which is typically reserved only for local film releases. The film, which has earned $220 million after 33 days, will likely see its screen share shrink dramatically when the local holiday tentpoles launch on Sunday — but as recent events have indicated, official gestures often carry lasting significance in the China market.