'Avatar' Yanked From 2-D Screens In China

Chinese state-run movie distributor replaces movie with 'Confucius.'

With more than $1.6 billion in worldwide box-office gross so far, "Avatar" is the biggest movie on the planet right now. But if they haven't already seen James Cameron's latest Hollywood spectacle, the people of China are going to have a much harder time finding the movie in theaters in the coming weekend. The communist nation's state-run movie distributer, China Film Group, intends to pull the sprawling sci-fi epic from 1,628 2-D screens this weekend, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

The Chow Yun-Fat-starring "Confucius," a biopic about the ancient Chinese philosopher, will take the place of "Avatar" in those theaters. Paul Hanneman, who heads up international distribution for 20th Century Fox, confirmed the news for the Times. The 900 3-D screens that "Avatar" is currently running on in China will not suffer the same fate however.

No official reason was given for the theater switch, though Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily reports that the "Avatar" cuts were pushed along at the urging of the state propaganda office. Not only is the American film stealing the thunder of Chinese releases, the paper states that there's also some concern over the attention it brings — by way of the Na'vi/human conflict — to forced evictions, a current controversy in the country.

It's also possible that the move was made for the upcoming Chinese New Year festivities, which kick off on February 13. Wolf Group Asia media consultant Dick Wolf told the Times that certain times of year are reserved for domestic releases, including the Chinese New Year.

What's more, China has a strict policy regarding imported films, with a quota of only 20 releases per year. While "Avatar" was hitting screens across the globe on December 18 of last year, Chinese audiences were forced to wait until January for the film, as the 2009 quota had already been reached. The box-office success of the movie hasn't stopped piracy, however; bootleg copies of the movie are reportedly available on the streets of Beijing.

"Avatar" is already the most successful film released — foreign or otherwise — in China's history, having grossed $76 million in ticket sales. More than half of those sales ($49 million) have come from 3-D screenings. Even with roughly 1,600 showings taken out of the equation by the week's end — no small number, considering the nation's 4,000 screens — the brisk business the movie has done will presumably continue, albeit at a slower pace.

Check out everything we've got on "Avatar."

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