Similarly, when Black Widow was released on Disney+ Premier Access in July, high-definition copies of the film appeared on The Pirate Bay on the same day. In Black Widow’s case, the film never even received a theatrical release in China, making the pirated version even more compelling to Marvel fans in the region. 

Along with Black Widow, several other Marvel films have been banned or indefinitely delayed by Chinese officials due to varying concerns about content, politics, character portrayals, and comments from actors and directors involved in the films. 

An on-demand streaming firewall against future market lockouts

This unpredictable range of issues impacting US films released in China—even as Hollywood studios censor some films and even change storylines to fit the country’s dictates—is forcing studios to look for other ways to bolster revenue in the shadow of constantly shifting rules from Beijing. In that respect, the pandemic-fueled hybrid approach has served as the perfect testbed for a move to digital releases alongside theatrical releases, but far sooner than some had imagined. 

“It is hard to predict the moves of a government,” Disney’s Asia-Pacific president Luke Kang said recently when asked if Marvel films would ever return to China. “Our job is to be where the consumers are at, understand the consumer, [understand] where our brands and franchises resonate.”

So while hybrid releases may be impacting the Chinese box office fortunes of US movie studios, embracing same-day streaming releases, and the revenue they yield could ultimately save Hollywood in the event of a complete shutout from the Chinese market. 

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