Crood box office manipulation?
DREAMWORKS animation The Croods, which has generated more than AU$63 million at the Chinese box office, has reportedly been pulled from the country's cinemas two weeks early.
The animation, slated to end its run on 24 June, is no-longer available in Chinese mainland cinemas according to The Hollywood Reporter, with the move believed to have been taken after several homegrown animated feature films failed to impress at the box office.
An anonymous Guangzhou-based cinema chain manager alleges he received a verbal directive similar to the one he received on 10 April telling him to cancel screenings of Django Unchained (just a day after the Quentin Tarantino film was released there).
The manager is quoted as saying he was "not surprised" by the sudden request to cancel screenings of The Croods, adding: "You just have to look at the box office figures and you understand why."
The Croods has so far outperformed the box office results of three Chinese animations - Happy Little Submarine 3: Rainbow Treasure, The Adventures of Sinbad 2013 and Kuiba 2, which collectively grossed 100 million Yuan- by nearly four times. However, it should be noted that The Croods has been available for seven weeks while those three films were released on 1 June.
It is not the first time film schedules in China have been tweaked in order to promote domestic features. Last year The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man had intended July release dates deferred until August - a decision which may have contributed to Chinese fantasy action film Painted Skin: Resurrection generating a record-breaking 726.4 million Yuan at the box office.
Tarantino's Django Unchained was originally approved for distribution in China but after just one day of screenings it was pulled from mainland cinemas. Reports at the time suggested its ultra-violence and nudity had fallen foul of the country's censors. When a heavily edited version arrived a month later on 10 May the film was a royal flop taking just 15 million Yuan.
It is the latest in a long line of commercial films to have had to undergo considerable changes prior to release in China.
Scenes of prostitution and references to torture were removed from Sam Mendes' Bond film Skyfall ; while nearly 40 minutes were chopped from the Hollywood film Cloud Atlas, including gay and straight love scenes.
Last November MGM Studios' special effects teams digitally removed all references to China from new release Red Dawn, with flags and symbols changed to North Korean ones, to salvage its box office potential.
China has a cap on the numbers of foreign films it shows and refuses to screen those that criticise the country or its government.
China is now the second-biggest film market in the world with sales of $2.7 billion last year according to the Motion Picture Association of America.