China Has Unbanned “Deadpool”, But How Will This Change Superhero Movies Worldwide?

Matthew Loffhagen
(Photo: Fox)

“Deadpool” is no longer banned in China.

This might not sound like a big deal – after all, the movie came out over two years ago – but it could well symbolize a significant change in the way that the world’s largest movie audience interacts with superhero films.

China has some very strict rules surrounding movie imports. Only a few non-Chinese films will get a theatrical release each year, but because of the sheer size of the movie market in the country, these few films stand to earn a huge amount of money.

Transformers Soy Milk in China
Source: Paramount

Franchises like “Transformers”, which have lost a lot of fans in the West in recent years, are almost entirely buoyed up by the Chinese market. Plenty of films, such as “Looper”, deliberately pander to a Chinese audience in order to make the film more appealing.

These efforts to cater to China do more than just improve the movie’s marketability – with China importing so few films each year, the country’s cultural committee can afford to be exceptionally picky about which movies make the list.

The more pro-Chinese a movie appears, the more likely the government will want it to open big in the Middle Kingdom, as a kind of soft propaganda to show that even Americans recognize that China is the greatest nation on Earth.

That’s the theory, at least.

Some movies, such as “Deadpool”, are unlikely to ever crack the Chinese audience. American comedies traditionally perform very poorly in China, as it’s not always possible to translate humor across different language and culture barriers.

“Guardians of the Galaxy”, for example, proved very unpopular in China, in part because of a shoddy translation that made a lot of the jokes nonsensical.

When making “Deadpool”, Fox didn’t exactly expect the movie was going to be a smash hit. This was part of the reason why director Tim Miller was given freedom to do so much wacky, risqué stuff. While there’s never been a reason given for why China banned “Deadpool”, it’s worth assuming that the sex humor in particularly probably counted against the film – pornography is banned in China, so too much kinky stuff isn’t going to fly with the Chinese censors.

Deadpool and Vanessa
Source: Fox

This isn’t to say that audiences in China didn’t get to see “Deadpool”. For a country with an awful lot of laws, there’s a lot of rulebreaking going on under the surface. Movie piracy is common, especially for contraband films, so if anyone really wanted to see “Deadpool” in China, it wouldn’t be too hard.

This is the problem with trying to censor a billion people: before long, someone in that population will figure out how to beat the system.

As for why “Deadpool” is finally getting a theatrical showing in China, there’s no official explanation yet again, but it does look suspiciously like Fox has lobbied hard for the entire “X-Men” franchise.

“Deadpool” will be first shown as part of a film festival that’s designed around screening obscure foreign gems, and it’ll be shown along with pretty much all the other “X-Men” movies (because apparently they count as obscure in China).

This conveniently coincides with the release of “Deadpool 2”; a perfect time to introduce the nation to a popular antihero that’s gained a lot of ground around the rest of the world.

So how will this obviously very corporate move affect future comic book movies?

Well, one thing’s clear: superhero films don’t need to go out of their way to appeal to China in the same way that they used to.

“Iron Man 3” has a few extra scenes in its China release, in which Tony Stark takes a trip to China in order to play with some kids and remark about how technologically advanced the country is. This Marvel-sanctioned propaganda isn’t even subtle, but at one point a few years ago, it seemed like the only way to ensure that a big budget superhero movie managed to open in China.

Now, this seems less necessary. If “Deadpool” can eventually earn a Chinese seal of approval, then other comic book movies can similarly do their own thing, and so long as they don’t actively criticize the Chinese government, all will be forgiven in the end.

This is good news for artistic integrity in a movie world that’s increasingly driven by ulterior motives, but alas, it doesn’t quite fix everything.

Look forward to plenty of product placement in upcoming comic book movies in future – these films might no longer be shilling Chinese propaganda, but they’re still going to be soft selling IHOP, Sears, and oh, so many Sony laptops and smartphones.