The Chinese government demanded a major U.S. movie studio remove a section of the recent Spider-Man blockbuster movie as a precondition for circulating the film in China, but the studio refused, according to a Hollywood insider.
Matthew Belloni, a former editor of the Hollywood Reporter and entertainment lawyer, reported Sunday that the Chinese demanded removal of the iconic New York Harbor symbol of American freedom from the ending of “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” Two earlier Spider-Man films, made by Marvel Studios, had grossed $116 million and $200 million in China.
Chinese authorities told Sony Pictures Entertainment in late 2021 that before the film could be shown in China the Statue of Liberty had to be removed or reduced in prominence from the ending scenes. The last scene involves three incarnations of the web-slinging hero battling supervillains while swinging over the statue attached to the heroes’ spider-like web lines.
Mr. Belloni, writing in the insider newsletter Puck, said studio executives were eager for the revenue expected from showing the film in China but could not agree to the edits. Chinese censors also reportedly asked Sony whether the Statue of Liberty could be minimized in the ending sequence, by dulling the lighting around the statue to make it less prominent.
“It was an outrageous ask,” Mr. Belloni wrote. “Sony thought about this request, per my sources, but ultimately passed, knowing that it almost certainly meant forfeiting that potentially massive China payday.”
Additionally, cutting out the statue also would have created more controversy by appearing to cave into the Chinese Communist Party pressure.
Even with the changes, the studio had no guarantee that “Spider Man: No Way Home” would have been chosen by Chinese authorities to be among the small number of American films allowed to be shown in the domestic market annually.
Mr. Belloni declined to disclose the sources for the report but said in an email he was “very, very confident” about the accuracy of the dispute between China and Sony.
Sony Pictures Entertainment did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
China has forced Hollywood in the past to alter films on ideological grounds. In 2011, the MGM agreed to demands to edit out the Chinese military from a remake of the movie “Red Dawn,” about an invasion and takeover of the United States. Instead the film was changed in post-production to show a less-plausible attack on the United States by North Korean troops.