Chinese censors have approved Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi spectacular “Dune” for release in the world’s largest film market. The film has officially announced that it will hit local screens this year, although it has not yet set a release date.
In late June, Warner Bros. shifted the film’s U.S. release date back from Oct. 1 to Oct. 22 amidst a larger scheduling reshuffle by the company. In China, the film is distributed by Wanda subsidiary Legendary Pictures.
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A big consideration for the timing change may have been that the planned Oct. 1 release would have coincided with China’s Oct. 1 National Day holiday and the subsequent weeks-long protectionist period during which there is an unofficial blackout on foreign titles to boost sales for local propaganda films. Other types of blockbusters, local and imported alike, should be returning to theaters around the Oct. 22 date.
The later date also bolsters its Chinese box office prospects. Should “Dune” have released Oct. 1 on HBO Max before a Chinese theatrical release, its China sales would likely have been significantly impacted by piracy, particularly since HBO Max is unavailable in the mainland.
The film has made casting choices that will appeal to a Chinese viewership, selecting Taiwan-born actor Chang Chen to play Dr. Wellington Yueh, a role previously taken up in past film adaptations by white actors Dean Stockwell (1984’s “Dune”) and Robert Russell (“Frank Herbert’s Dune” miniseries). Chang is known for his roles in Wong Kar-wai’s “Happy Together” and “2046,” Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and Hou Hsiao-hsien’s “Three Times” and “The Assassin.”
Passing censorship more than three months before its North America debut will hopefully help smooth the way for “Dune” to secure a day-and-date release for China alongside domestic, although that is not always the case. Marvel’s “Black Widow,” for instance, passed censorship back in March, but has yet to announce a China release date despite opening July 9 stateside.
The news of the greenlight for the China “Dune” outing was met with an outpouring of excitement from Chinese viewers, many of whom are already dubbing it one of the major movie events of the year.
Villeneuve’s past films have had strong, though not smashing success, at the Chinese box office. China was the top overseas territory for both “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049,” which grossed $15.9 million and $11.7 million in the country, respectively.
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