‘The Lion King’ Could Roar Into China A Week Before Domestic; July Blackout Fading?

EXCLUSIVE: Disney’s The Lion King is being tipped for a July 12 China release, one full week before the film’s domestic debut, multiple sources tell me.

Getting a jump in China is not unprecedented — Universal’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom did it last June, albeit in step with other offshore launches. What would be particular about Lion King is going to the Middle Kingdom smack in the middle of what typically is a blackout period. What’s more, this would be the only market to get it so early. There has been no official announcement as to the China release plan.

The Jon Favreau-helmed CGI/live-action adventure is expected to be a massive global box office player this summer and its potential inclusion in China’s July provides insight into the current state of flux in the market and questions of U.S/Middle Kingdom relations amid Donald Trump’s trade war.

There has been concern in industry circles that the unofficial July blackout could extend to October which marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic. As I recently noted as well, some have suggested that the Middle Kingdom may keep the doors open to the studios over the summer in favor of cordoning off September in the run-up to the celebrations. For Hollywood, The Lion King‘s release date would be good news, for local titles perhaps not so much.

As an example of how quickly things change in China, a Lion King July 12 start would come immediately in the wake of the Shanghai Film Festival’s cancellation of its opening-night screening of war epic The Eight Hundred. That movie has been expected to be a mega-hit locally and has a July 5 release scheduled. While the fest today said it nixed the pic over technical issues, there is speculation that something isn’t sitting right with the authorities. This also raises a question as to whether the movie will maintain its July 5 debut.

New censorship rules are primarily designed for Chinese films, TV and other entertainment. President Xi Jinping has spoken about the need to tighten ideological control domestically so that everyone is on the same page of the “core socialist values” — and particularly ahead of the October 1 anniversary.

Should The Eight Hundred bow out of July, it could represent a blow to local turnstiles this summer. The highly anticipated Lion King is expected to roar at the box office and could help make up for any shortfall in the absence of the Chinese drama. Through May, local box office is down 5% from 2018, and authorities traditionally seek to maintain double-digit year-on-year growth.

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A beloved — and lucrative — property, the original Lion King was released in 1994 and is one of the highest-grossing animated films of all time with a lifetime global box office of $968.8M. It won Academy Awards for Elton John and Tim Rice’s original song, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and Hans Zimmer’s original score. It also nabbed two Grammy Awards, with the soundtrack selling more than 14M copies. In 2011, it was re-released in a 3D version that made $94M.

The story of little Simba follows Favreau and Disney’s blockbuster collaboration on The Jungle Book, which grossed $967M worldwide in 2016, $150M of it from China. After China, international rollout on Lion King begins July 17 with domestic opening July 19.

Recently, the local government also gave the jump on day-and-date release to Disney/Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, which was granted an April 24 release, two days before domestic, while Sony’s Spider-Man: Far From Home snared a June 28 bow ahead of the July 2 North American launch.

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