In 2009, China was starting to establish itself as a significant market for Hollywood, a development that was solidified by James Cameron’s Avatar’s phenomenal box office success. Despite being a worldwide box office hit, the film far outperformed predictions in the Chinese market, where it eventually made a staggering $250 million (a figure topped up by a successful rerelease in March 2021).
China Daily and Deadline have confirmed that the China Film Group has been given access to a screening of exclusive footage in 3D, 4K, and high-frame-rate, complete with an introduction from director James Cameron himself. This indicates that 20th Century Studios are clearly hoping to duplicate that success with Avatar: The Way of Water later this year.
After saying “thank-you” in Mandarin, Cameron said:
“With the first Avatar, we set out to push the limits of the big screen. With the new Avatar films, we’re pushing those limits even further.”
Avatar: The Way of Water’s Chinese distribution is now far from guaranteed because numerous recent Hollywood movies have had poor results there. With Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Eternals, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and Thor: Love and Thunder all being denied release for various reasons, even the mighty Marvel Studios have fallen short of the China Film Group’s requirements.
As a result, this early effort to express support for China (and in particular for the China Film Group) is certainly a well-planned strategy intended to make Avatar: The Way of Water easier to get past the famously erratic censors. The story and script of the movie have undoubtedly already been adjusted for this situation, therefore there is a significant likelihood that it will be released.
However, Disney, whose current relations with China are not very good, now owns 20th Century Studios. When the full movie is submitted for clearance in a few months, we should find out, but in the meantime, expect Avatar: The Way of Water to continue love-bombing the Chinese market.
On December 16, 2022, Avatar: The Way of Water will premiere domestically.