After narrowly avoiding a head-to-head battle in U.S. theaters, "The Bourne Legacy "and "Total Recall"may open against each other in China, another indication that the world's most populous nation is trying to curb the commercial returns of American productions.
The China Film Group and Film Bureau, state-owned entities that oversee movie distribution in the country, are considering opening the action pictures on the same day in September.
"Bourne Legacy" director Tony Gilroy said the plan is already underway and that his picture is being converted to the Imax format for Chinese audiences (it is not scheduled to play in Imax domestically).
Another person who is active in the China movie market but requested anonymity for fear of offending authorities said it was his understanding that the state-owned firms are strongly considering the head-to-head face-off, but it is unconfirmed.
The movies had been scheduled to open simultaneously in the U.S. on Aug. 3, but Universal Pictures decided last month to push "Bourne" back by one week.
Should "Bourne" and Sony Pictures' "Total Recall" open simultaneously in China, it could mark the third time in a two-month period in which U.S. movies aimed at the same audience have been booked for the same opening date. On Friday, the animated pictures"Ice Age: Continental Drift" and"Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" both open in China, where they will compete for the family audience and 3-D screens.
Chinese authorities have been matching similar movies against each other to depress the box office receipts of Hollywood films, which have been far outpacing local productions this year.
In the first six months of 2012, the box office revenues for Chinese-made films dropped 4.3% compared to the same period from last year to $439 million, according to a report in China Daily. Ticket sales for foreign pictures, meanwhile, are up 90% to $825 million. Many industry experts say China, which now trails only the United States in terms of total box-office revenues, could become the No. 1 movie market in just a few years.
The government recently relaxed its quotas on how many non-Chinese films can be exhibited in local theaters, while also increasing the percentage of Chinese proceeds that American studios receive.
In the state-owned People's Daily, Zhang Hongsen, deputy head of the film bureau controlled by the State Administration of Radio Film and Television, said putting Hollywood movies head to head was intended to depress their ticket sales.
"We hope those protective measures will be able to create a space for domestic movies to survive and grow," he told the newspaper. "We hope the measures can provide domestic movies some fundamental support and enhance their abilities to compete against the imported blockbusters."
Representatives for Sony Pictures and Universal Pictures declined to comment, as did the Motion Picture Assn. of America, which has lobbied China to better support Hollywood fare.