Why Disney Rejected China’s Day-And-Date Release Offer For ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’
For Hollywood movies distributed in China, a day-and-date release—that is, a theatrical opening date that falls on the same day as the domestic debut—is generally a very good thing to have. A same-day rollout in China helps to boost box office activity, because it gives Chinese moviegoers the opportunity to see a film at the same time that the rest of the world sees it, and it diminishes the negative financial impact of pirated viewings.
Foreign companies that wish to distribute their movies in China don’t get to choose their own release dates. That right falls to China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), to whom Hollywood’s studios petition for the dates they feel will best position their films in the marketplace.
Very often a day-and-date release is what’s requested. Sometimes the studios are granted their requests, but more often foreign films are delayed in China to accommodate the preferred status of domestic films, which always get the choice releasing slots at holidays and during certain “blackout” periods when Hollywood movies are shut out. That’s why pictures like Valerian: City of A Thousand Planets, Dunkirk, Baby Driver and Spider-Man: Homecoming released in September even though they had opened earlier in the year in North America.
So it came as a surprise this week when word got out that SAPPRFT had offered Disney (NYSE:DIS) a cherished day-and-date December 15th release for its Rian Johnson-written and directed Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and the studio had turned it down (I contacted Disney for confirmation and comment on this story, but have not yet received a reply from the studio).
Disney has been on a tremendous roll for the past few years in China, so rather than second-guess the company’s decision, I’ll instead take a shot at explaining it.
On the surface, December 15th, 2017 looks like a darn good release date to me. There’s no other major studio film set to open on that date. And the only domestic Chinese competitor opening at the same time—the Tsui Hark-scripted and Woo Yuen-Ping directed The Thousand Faces of Dunjia—doesn’t appear to be a match for the Star Wars picture.
I suspect there are a couple of factors at play that caused Disney’s execs to choose to delay their film’s Middle Kingdom release date. For one thing, the company went for early January releases of its Star Wars: The Force Awakenson January 9, 2015 and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which opened on January 6th this year. Both pictures did decent-to-strong business, partly owing to the fact that there wasn’t much domestic or foreign competition at the multiplexes in those early weeks of the year. It’s only when Chinese New Year arrives— next year it falls on February 16th—that the PRC’s theaters get commandeered almost entirely by Chinese films.