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Why ‘Suicide Squad’ May Never Play in China

The Warner Bros. superhero flick has yet to be given a release date in the world’s second-largest movie market

Warner Bros. “Suicide Squad” hasn’t been able to win over critics or fans (yet), and now it looks like it also failed to convince the state censorship body that determines which imported films get to play in China, the world’s No. 2 movie market and one that’s been extremely lucrative for many other superhero films.

According to insiders with knowledge of the situation, director David Ayer‘s anti-hero mashup has yet to secure a China release date, which is typically slotted more than a month in advance.

The previous installment in Warner’s DC Cinematic Universe, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” got a coveted day-and-date release in China, but the film failed to clear $100 million there amid reports of fans walking out and playing on their phones.

One insider familiar with the situation said the movie’s dark tone was likely a major factor, although Warner Bros. took steps to soften its image in the hopes that “Suicide Squad” would be one of the 34 imported films allowed to play in China’s multiplexes.

The movie received a PG-13 rating — unlike R-rated “Deadpool,” which also didn’t get cleared for China — and Warner Bros. even changed the local title of the film to “Task Force X.” And it has a well-known cast, including Viola Davis, Margot Robbie and Will Smith, one of the most popular American actors in China.

Meanwhile, Disney’s Marvel movies have been consistent winners in the Middle Kingdom, which could be the world’s biggest box office market as soon as 2017. Last year’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” reeled in $240 million at the Chinese box office, and even a relative afterthought like “Ant-Man” cleared the $100 million mark. Then again, Marvel has been releasing movies in China since 2008’s “Iron Man,” and its lighter and more colorful aesthetic seems to have greater appeal there than DC’s more ominous look does.

The Hollywood Reporter was the first to report the story. A spokesman for Warner Bros. declined to comment on the report.