Report: Sony didn’t release latest Spider-Man film in China after censors requested huge change

In a move that likely cost the studio hundreds of millions of dollars, Sony Pictures refused to allow edits demanded by Chinese Communist Party authorities to the latest Spider-Man film, instead not allowing it to be released in the country. 

According to a Sunday report in Hollywood publication Puck, authorities had asked the studio to remove the Statue of Liberty from “Spider-Man: No Way Home” before it was distributed in China.

While Hollywood has a history of acquiescing to the whims of Chinese censors, this would have required profound changes to the third Spider-Man film starring Tom Holland in the lead role.

“As anyone who’s seen ‘No Way Home’ knows, the entire climactic action sequence takes place with a trio of Spider-Men swinging over and around Lady Liberty as they battle the supervillains,” Puck noted.

“Plus, without getting too into [Marvel Cinematic Universe] plot points, the Statue plays a larger role in the Marvel movies. It was an outrageous ask.”

That sequence takes up over 20 minutes of film time, National Review’s Zachary Evans noted.

Sony executives Tony Vinciquerra and Tom Rothman immediately balked at the request, the report said, leading CCP officials to bargain with Sony: Perhaps the statue could just be “minimized” during the finale.

Puck reported that “if Sony could cut a few of the more patriotic shots of Holland standing atop the crown, or dull the lighting so that Lady Liberty’s visage wasn’t so front-and-center,” the censors would approve.

“Sony thought about this request, per my sources, but ultimately passed, knowing that it almost certainly meant forfeiting that potentially massive China payday.”

The first two films in the series grossed $116 million and $200 million in the country, respectively, meaning Sony was walking away from a significant pile of cash. It’s unclear whether Sony refused to distribute the picture in China or Chinese authorities made the final decision for them, having been infuriated by the studio’s refusal — but one way or another, the movie didn’t see release in the country.

However, don’t think the decision was purely about standing up for artistic freedom in the face of Chinese censorship.

As Puck noted, the decision could have caused media backlash in the United States and the rest of the world, leading to a lower gross for the film overall. Also, even if Sony had reduced the Statue of Liberty’s presence in the film, this didn’t mean it was going to pass muster with the censors, anyhow. And, “U.S. films just aren’t doing as well in China as they once did.”

However, Sony Pictures was the studio that stood up for Quentin Tarantino when Chinese authorities had requested scenes featuring depictions of Bruce Lee be cut from “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” before it was released in the country.

It’s not as if the controversy hurt the worldwide take of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” too much; the film grossed $1.9 billion worldwide.

It’s refreshing news after a series of controversies in which Hollywood studios have kowtowed to Chinese Communist Party.

Warner Bros. recently removed dialogue that referenced a gay relationship from “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” before it was released in China at the behest of censors.

In the credits to its live-action remake of “Mulan,” Disney infamously thanked government officials in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, where an alleged genocide against Uyghur Muslims is taking place.

John Cena, actor and pro wrestling star, also issued an apology prior to the release of the ninth installment of the “Fast and Furious” series, “F9,” after he referred to Taiwan as an independent country.