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'Ice Age: Continental Drift' and 'The Lorax' battle for Chinese viewers

'Ice Age: Continental Drift' is opening the same weekend in China as 'The Lorax.' Why is China forcing two Hollywood movies to compete for ticket sales?

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Even though China Film keeps about 75 percent of box-office revenue, maximizing profits might not be its sole concern, say people familiar with the state-controlled company’s thinking who did not want to be identified publicly because it might jeopardize their relationships with China. Government officials are believed to be worried that Hollywood movies have been performing far better than locally made productions, the sources said.

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Of the $1.25 billion in box-office receipts so far this year, 63 percent was generated by American movies, according to Robert Cain, who covers the Chinese on his blog Chinafilmbiz.

The most popular imports this year are the 3-D release of “Titanic” ($154.8 million), “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” ($102.7 million) and “The Avengers” ($90.3 million). Even the stateside dud “Battleship” has performed well in China, grossing more than $50 million.

Cain said two interests are competing for primacy at the Chinese box office. China Film wants to make as much money at the multiplex as possible, which leads to booking a series of American blockbusters. “They are probably happy to see them do well,” Cain said of China Film’s view of the popularity of American movies.

But the Communist Party, he said, could be disillusioned by the trend. “There’s a lot of concern — they want to promote Chinese values,” Cain said. “Purely from a propaganda perspective, it’s a big problem and probably embarrassing to the people in the culture industry — that moviegoers are rejecting their product.”

Backing up that theory is the fact that there has been an unofficial “blackout” on American movies in China for the last several weeks, despite a recent increase in the number of foreign films China allows to enter the country and share in box-office revenue.

The last U.S. film allowed into the country was Disney/Pixar’s animated “Brave” on June 19. The next one scheduled for release is “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1” on July 25.

One person close to the situation who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of ongoing talks said Fox and Universal were still hopeful they could lobby Chinese officials to change the release date for one of the movies at the last minute.

Fox’s fourth “Ice Age” film, which launches Friday in the U.S., has already grossed more than $200 million abroad. Universal’s “The Lorax” opened in March and has grossed $313 million worldwide but has yet to open in several major international markets. Because it has been in release for several months, pirated versions of “The Lorax” are probably already widely available online and on DVD in China.

Although many Chinese students are on holiday, increasing the number of families available to go to the movies, the two similar films are certain to eat into each other’s attendance. In addition, they will be competing for the country’s more than 2,000 3-D screens.

RECOMMENDED: The 50 best movies of all time

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Los Angeles Times news assistant Tommy Yang reported from Beijing.

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©2012 Los Angeles Times/McClatchy News Service

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