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Top Gun: Maverick will debut in theaters this weekend without the expected backing from the Chinese tech firm Tencent Holdings Ltd.
In 2019, Tencent signed on to co-finance the film, a sequel to the 1986 Top Gun, but then since backed out entirely.
As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Tencent grew concerned that the positive portrayal of the American military in the film would alienate Communist Party officials in Beijing. Thus, Tencent rescinded its promised $170 million investment.
As a result, the film has not been green-lighted in Chinese theaters, limiting the film’s box office potential.
The failed partnership between Paramount and Tencent follows a pattern of growing tensions between Hollywood and China.
US films have long gone out of their way to appease Chinese officials to ensure a theatrical release in the lucrative Chinese market. This has included casting characters and amending scenes at the behest of the CCP.
State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus discussed this topic with OutKick last year:
“There have been examples of movie after movie where Hollywood would erase things or delete or change names in order to appease the Chinese Communist Party. And I just find it absolutely reprehensible. I mean, the way that we allow ourselves to be censored by communists. It just makes my freakin’ head explode. It’s so bizarre, Bobby.”
Now, the future of Hollywood and China is riddled with uncertainties as the CCP has grown harder to please.
“In less than three years, Chinese executives have gone from rushing toward financing opportunities in Hollywood to steering clear, at the same time that other Western businesses have shifted their perception of China from an attractive growth market of 1.4 billion consumers to a thicket of uncertainty,” the WSJ explains.
“U.S.-China tensions have disrupted distribution plans for several movies in recent years, including Walt Disney Co.’s 2020 live-action “Mulan” remake, which drew criticism for filming in Xinjiang province, where officials have been accused of committing human-rights abuses. But it is rare for a financial backer to pull out of a movie entirely the way Tencent did.”
American moviegoers may see the troubled relationship between Hollywood and China as a positive for the quality of US-based films. After all, catering to the CCP, not US viewers has led to the offputting, out-of-touch nature of the film industry.
However, don’t expect US studios to accept rejection from China lightly. Several production companies will likely bend the knee even further and try to restore favorability with Beijing.
See, films cannot replace a Chinese box office. Estimates say China’s refusal to show Space Jam 2 featuring LeBron James in theaters cost Warner Bros. Pictures. well over a hundred million dollars.
“Space Jam 2 cost $200 million to make and market and will likely only make $60-70 million without China. Meaning LeBron’s movie will lose over a hundred million dollars, at least,” Clay Travis tweeted. “China blocking the movie is a huge story. But no one is even discussing it in media. Strange.”
Alas, China has leverage over Hollywood. Not the other way around.
Tencent backing out of Top Gun: Maverick sent a message that if a script portrays the US military too positively, China will not participate in that film’s production and release. US film studios are taking note.