Chinese censors have rejected a cut of "World War Z," Paramount's film about the zombie apocalypse starring Brad Pitt, an executive familiar with upcoming releases in China told TheWrap. A Paramount executive said that the studio had not yet heard back from China's censorship office, and was unaware of any rejection.
The decision is potentially significant as the inability to screen in China would limit one of the year's most expensive movies, reportedly $200 million, from having access to the world's second biggest market. A release in China could contribute tens of millions of dollars in grosses to the film's bottom line.
"It definitely got rejected the first time" it was submitted, said the executive, who is close to China's decision-making structure, which is run by the state. "It has not been cleared." He said the decision came down a week ago.
The Paramount executive countered: "We have submitted one version and have yet to receive a response."
Paramount is angling for a precious release slot in a quota-driven system in China. It may yet be approved; Paramount can still resubmit the film, which opens in the United States on June 21, and hope censors change their minds.
China is "always moving the goal posts," the executive said. Several other films are still waiting to see whether they gain approval, as China often rewards a release date after a movie even opens.
"Fast and Furious 6," a already a hit at home and overseas, will not open in China until July 26, at which point it should be thoroughly pirated in that country.
As TheWrap previously reported, Paramount already changed "World War Z" as a preemptive move to increase the movie's chances of being approved. In the scene, officials debated whether a global outbreak originated in China. Paramount removed the line "China is dark," but the line was played during a Super Bowl advertising spot, which China knew about.
Other hurdles to Chinese approval of the film include a sensitivity to Pitt, who is remembered for having starred in "Seven Years in Tibet," which highlighted Tibet's struggle for autonomy in the wake of Chinese invasion and capture of that nation.
The film also features zombies, which are subject to censor scrutiny in a country that does not like depictions of magic, horror or superstition.
The film has drawn an incredible amount of attention ever since Paramount postponed its release, hired Damon Lindelof to rewrite the end and reshot parts of the movie. Paramount executives are now very optimistic about the film, but there's no question that being deprived a release in China would hurt the box office potential of a $200M+ production.
China's value as a market was underlined for Paramount over the weekend, when the studio's "Star Trek Into Darkness" wrapped its first week of release there with more than $25 million.
Among the movies that have been cleared include Warner Bros.' "Man of Steel" and "Pacific Rim," Sony's "After Earth" and "White House Down" and Universal's "Fast and Furious 6."