The animated film "Despicable Me 2" has been denied a release in China, a spokesperson for distributor Universal Pictures has confirmed.
The 3-D movie, a sequel to the 2010 hit, has grossed $584 million worldwide. And it has been a huge success overseas, taking in $308 million internationally since rolling out in most territories in early July.
It's not clear why China’s State Administration for Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) blocked the movie from the country, the second largest film market in the world.
The film from production company Illumination Entertainment, the main supplier of family movies to Universal, centers on the Steve Carell-voiced Gru, a reformed baddie who teams up with his minions to save the world from a super-villain named El Macho.
"It's very unlikely that it is about the content of the film," said Robert Cain, a producer and film consultant who specializes in the Chinese market. "What could 'Despicable Me 2' possibly be doing to threaten people's interests there?"
The original “Despicable Me” film did not get released in China.
Universal has had three of its films shown in China this year: “Oblivion,” “Jurassic Park 3D” and “Les Miserables,” and its “Fast & Furious 6” will debut in the country on Friday. That release count is in line with those of other major studios in 2013.
Universal's international hit "Fast & Furious 6" is being released in China roughly two months after its U.S. bow.
That could diminish box-office returns for the Vin Diesel-starring film. Typically, Hollywood studios aim to release films in China on the same day or shortly after their domestic debuts in order to capitalize on the attendant publicity pushes. Also, when films idle before getting releases in China, interest in them can be dampened because audiences there may instead turn to pirated versions of the movies before their official releases.
Universal's parent company, NBCUniversal, is owned by cable giant Comcast Corp.
Other studios have had their share of issues with the Chinese market. Sony Pictures Entertainment's "Django Unchained" was pulled from theaters April 11 -- the day it premiered -- with officials in China offering no reason for the move. However, after the Quentin Tarantino picture underwent an edit, which excised a handful of graphic sequences, it was allowed back into theaters about a month later. The film eventually flopped in China.
Also, Paramount Pictures' Brad Pitt zombie action movie "World War Z," a hit domestically and abroad, was denied a release in China. According to a movie industry source, SARFT's issue with the Marc Forster-directed film had to do with the subject matter of the undead, a sensitive cultural topic in China.
Cain also speculated that "Despicable Me 2" could have run into another issue: Chinese authorities have decided they aren't interested -- at least for the moment -- in more successful animated films coming from the U.S. He noted the success of DreamWorks Animation's "The Croods," which bowed in China on April 20, and went on to generate nearly $65 million in ticket sales there. But the movie's theatrical run was ended two weeks earlier than anticipated.
The Los Angeles Times reported in June that the move was interpreted as a way to make room for Chinese animated movies.
"One could speculate that [Chinese authorities] are saying, 'OK, enough American animated movies this summer,'" Cain said. "Animation is an important area for China domestically."
Universal declined to comment.