Disney Wins Approval to Open ‘Iron Man 3’ in China on May 3

Walt Disney Co. won approval to release “Iron Man 3” in China on May 3, offering a separate version aimed at enhancing the film’s appeal in the world’s second-largest movie market.

The release date for the picture, produced by Disney’s Marvel unit and Beijing-based DMG Entertainment, was announced yesterday in an e-mail. “Iron Man 3,” one of the company’s big summer films, opens the same the day in the U.S.

The retooled version of “Iron Man 3” will highlight Chinese actors and include additional China footage, according to the company. Burbank, California-based Disney, along with other studios, is trying to meet local tastes and satisfy a censorship board. A simultaneous release in both countries reduces the risk of piracy cutting into sales in China.

“There are very few foreign films that get that opportunity,” said Robert Cain, a film producer and consultant for studios working in China. “It doesn’t allow any time for piracy to eat into ‘Iron Man 3’ grosses.”

The U.S. opening of “Iron Man 3” has been clouded by a dispute between Disney and large U.S. and Canadian cinema operators over how ticket revenue will be shared. Regal Entertainment Group, AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., Cinemark Holdings Inc. and Toronto-based Cineplex Inc. aren’t offering advance sales during negotiations.

“Iron Man 3” is forecast to take in $151 million in its opening weekend in the U.S., the estimate of researcher Boxoffice.com. The parties will almost certainly come to terms before the opening, said Brett Harriss, an analyst with Gabelli & Co. in Rye, New York.

Original Plan

“It’s hard to see a situation in which this does not get resolved,” Harriss said in an interview. “They’re probably sacrificing some pre-sales now, but anyone who would book their ticket two weeks out is still going to see that movie.”

Disney’s original plan to make the movie a U.S.-China co-production, thereby getting around foreign import quotas, was dropped in favor of two versions, one for China and another for other countries, the company said on March 29.

Ticket sales in China increased 26 percent in 2012 to $2.7 billion, according to an industry trade group.

Chinese actor Wang Xueqi will appear in both versions, along with star Robert Downey Jr., and both versions will include scenes filmed in Beijing in December. The Chinese version will also feature actress Fan Bingbing and include bonus footage for the Chinese fans, according to the statement.

The film opened April 24 in Australia, Taiwan and some European countries, according to the Internet Movie Database.

Disney, the world’s largest entertainment company, fell 1 percent to $61.94 at the close in New York. The stock has gained 24 percent this year, compared with an 11 percent gain for the Standard & Poor’s 500 index.

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