Reviews | ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Proves Hollywood Doesn’t Need China

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The resounding success of “Top Gun: Maverick” could represent a turning point in Hollywood’s relationship with China. The cinematic celebration of American military superiority was a monster hit, even if it wasn’t released in the Middle Kingdom. It’s time for American studios to recalibrate their priorities to be less reliant on Chinese censors and Chinese moviegoers.

The $300 million global opening puts the picture roughly three-quarters of the way to profitability in just four days in theaters. That’s a big number by any measure these days; importantly, for our purposes here, the picture produced by Paramount Pictures and Skydance Media hit that mark without bringing in a single penny in China.

This might surprise some culture warriors who knew little about this image, other than the fact that Pete “Maverick” Mitchell’s (Tom Cruise) flight jacket from the iconic original was altered in the trailer. to erase any mention of Japan or Taiwan. . According to observers, the change happened because the film was partially funded by Tencent Holdings, a Chinese company.

Avid viewers at early screenings noticed a few things, though. The first was that during the title cards that preceded the photo, the Tencent logo could not be found. The second was that the flags of Japan and Taiwan were back in place on Maverick’s jacket. That these two things were related seemed obvious, but it was nice to have confirmation from Erich Schwartzel of the Wall Street Journal.

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“Tencent executives backed out of Paramount Pictures’ $170 million production after fears Communist Party officials in Beijing were angry at the company’s affiliation with a movie celebrating the U.S. military, according to people familiar with the matter,” Schwartzel reported.

Having lost the Chinese funding and not being sure if they would get a Chinese version, someone somewhere decided the juice wasn’t worth the money anymore and called off the vandalism on Mav’s jacket. Aside from simply making aesthetic sense, the move also earned the picture goodwill with American audiences who are tired of seeing their blockbusters defaced by Chinese censors.

And “Top Gun: Maverick” is just the latest film to achieve box office success after it rejected Chinese requests in exchange for a run in theaters there. Rumor has it that China asked Sony Pictures to remove a sequence in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” that featured the Statue of Liberty.

Anyone who has seen “Spider-Man: No Way Home” understands the impossibility of this request. The climax of the picture, involving three generations of Spider-Men battling against three generations of Spider-Man villains, takes place on a Statue of Liberty that has been remodeled as a tribute to Captain America. Indeed, the request is so impossible that it gives the impression of a de facto rejection of the image by Chinese censors.

Luckily for Sony and partner Disney, it didn’t really matter: ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ was the first shameless national hit in post-pandemic theater life, grossing over $800 million. just in the United States. On top of that, it added over a billion more worldwide, totaling $1.89 billion. Combined with the fact that Disney’s “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” has also grossed nearly $900 million worldwide so far without a Chinese release, we’re starting to see what a post-Chinese future looks like for Hollywood: not so different, but a bit more independent.

That’s not to say the Chinese box office will stop playing a fiscal role in America’s dream factory. Universal is no doubt thrilled that the latest “Jurassic World” has already gotten a release date in China, and it’s hard to imagine the “Fast and Furious” movies, also from Universal, not getting a release there. -low, because this series is practically built. on a global and pan-national appeal.

But the success of “Top Gun: Maverick,” the two most recent images from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and other productions that escaped Chinese censorship like Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” opus suggests that Hollywood has less to worry about losing the Chinese market than it might have thought.

And, perhaps equally important, American movie studios can claim the high morals as champions of American values ​​at home, and the outlaw quality that makes Hollywood a beacon in unfree societies. . ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ will undoubtedly be seen in China – but as a samizdat. Pirate DVDs and digital files of Pete Mitchell acting like a maverick within the system won’t make Hollywood much money. But they will serve as a reminder that one of America’s greatest attributes is our commitment to individual achievement, even within resolutely hierarchical structures.

In the end, Iceman (Val Kilmer), Maverick’s rival-pilot turned dear friend, was right: as Ice said in the original, Maverick is dangerous – to Chinese aspirations for global hegemony. And that’s exactly why the world needs Pete Mitchell in the cockpit of an F-18 Super Hornet.

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