Coming soon to a theater near you: China's Communist Party.
From demanding changes in plot lines that denigrate the Chinese leadership, to dampening lurid depictions of sex and violence, Beijing is having increasing success in pressuring Hollywood into deleting movie content Beijing finds objectionable.
It's even getting American studios to sanction alternative versions of films specially tailored for Chinese audiences, like "Iron Man 3," which debuts in theaters around the world later this week. The Chinese version features local heartthrob Fan Bingbing — absent from the version showing abroad — and lengthy clips of Chinese scenery that local audiences love.
There's no secret to what's driving Hollywood's China policy, which has burst on the scene with meteor-like intensity in the past year. Already the second-biggest box office in the world, China seems set to surpass the U.S./Canada market by 2020 at the latest. And with traditional movie funding sources drying up, Hollywood studios increasingly see Beijing as a bankrolling destination of choice, with Chinese counterparts ponying up on glitzy co-productions, including "Iron Man 3" and next year's "Transformers 4," as well as films without a direct China connection.
"Movie attendance in the U.S. is down because of global piracy and audience indifference," said Los Angeles-based film historian Leonard Maltin. "So the explosion of the China market is a boon to the industry. I'm sure the studios are not excited about making the China-inspired changes but they're in the business to make a buck and they're finding it hard to resist."
Published reports have pinpointed at least a half dozen recent films where Hollywood has given in on demands from Chinese censors to alter content for political or other reasons, ranging from the James Bond feature "Skyfall" — where unflattering references to the sex trade in the Chinese territory of Macau supposedly landed on the cutting room floor — to "World War Z," starring Brad Pitt, in which the Chinese origin of a plague of apocalyptic zombies was said to have been excised.