Weeks after word dropped that Marvel movies were coming back to China, multiple sources are reporting that DC Studios’ “Shazam: Fury of the Gods” will receive a theatrical release in what is still the biggest overseas marketplace.
Opening just under four years after its well-reviewed and well-received predecessor, the David F. Sandberg-directed action fantasy again stars Zachery Levi as the “grown-up” superhero alter ego of Asher Angel’s Billy Batson, a young foster kid who is gifted powers from a wizard. “Shazam!” earned $139 million domestically and $366 million worldwide on a $90 million budget, although only $43 million of that came from China.
Its arrival in China follows news that Marvel’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” will play in China early this month — long after its mid-November global launch — and that “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” will get a Chinese release alongside its Feb. 17 domestic opening.
Those two will be the first MCU movies to play in China since Sony’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home” grossed $199 million out of $1.131 billion globally and Disney’s “Avengers: Endgame” earned a record-high $620 million out of $2.8 billion worldwide in 2019. Disney’s MCU films like “Black Widow” and Sony titles like “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” — even after “Venom” grossed $269 million there in 2018 — have since been subject to a soft ban in the territory.
Blame or credit went to previous allegedly anti-China statements by the director of “Eternals,” Chloe Zhao and the star of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” Simu Liu, along with a desire by the Chinese government to emphasize local tentpoles, lessen Hollywood’s soft power influence and project a global portrait of a nation that didn’t need to proselytize its own culturally-specific values even if such a stance causes economic self-harm.
Whether that’s the case or whether they really did take issue with too many shots of the Statue of Liberty in the action finale of Sony’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” the ban had a skewed impact on Marvel’s narrative. The Spidey epic still earned $1.91 billion in 2021/2022, the biggest no-China global total ever, but “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” and “Thor: Love and Thunder” found themselves on the defensive partially due to that $100-$150 million in missing revenue that might have come from China and Russia before the crackdown and before the invasion of Ukraine.
DC Films, now DC Studios, had their films mostly play in China but to severely diminishing results. “Wonder Woman 1984” earned $25 million compared to “Wonder Woman’s” $95 million gross in 2017, while last year’s “The Batman” earned just $20 million out of $770 million globally in China. While “Shazam” was not much of a hit in China this could be seen as a test run for “The Flash,” “Blue Beetle,” and especially “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.” The first Jason Momoa-starring underwater epic earned $292 million of its $1.148 billion global total in China.
That was and remains the biggest such gross for a Hollywood superhero movie save for the last two “Avengers” films. With “Avatar: The Way of Water” flying past “F9” to become the biggest Hollywood grosser since “Avengers: Endgame” 3.5 years ago, and with news that DC and Marvel movies are being welcomed back with open arms, the perception is a return to pre-Covid normalcy. Whether the grosses justify that optimism, or whether it’s just a carrot to ensure Hollywood remains invested in the territory, remains to be seen.