The state-run movie distributor China Film Group is unexpectedly yanking the film from 1,628 2-D screens beginning Jan. 23 in favor of a biography of the ancient philosopher Confucius starring Chow-Yun Fat.
Paul Hanneman, co-president of international distribution for the movie's distributor 20th Century Fox, confirmed the information to The Los Angeles Times. He said he and other executives at the studio learned the news Monday evening.
According to a report in the Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, the move was made at the urging of propaganda officials who are concerned that Avatar is taking too much market share from Chinese films and drawing unwanted attention to the sensitive issue of forced evictions, the LAT reports.
Millions of Chinese have been uprooted to make way for high rises and government infrastructure projects. "Nail House" is a popular term given to homes of dwellers who refuse to leave though they are surrounded by demolished homes.
In Avatar, human colonists try to demolish the village of an alien race in order to obtain a precious resource buried below it.
David Wolf, of media consultancy Wolf Group Asia, told the LAT the decision to pull Avatar had more to do with the upcoming Chinese New Year holiday.
"There's certain windows in the year that are held for domestic films," Wolf said. "We're coming up on Chinese New Year, so this can be expected."
Wolf told the LAT that most foreign films get a 10-day run before being pulled. Executives at Fox had expected Avatar to play much longer, however, due to its massive popularity. It has grossed a record $76 million in China, according to the studio.
Losing the 2-D screens will be a blow to Avatar, but not a fatal one, a studio executive said. The film will remain on nearly 900 3-D screens, which have so far generated 64% of its total ticket sales, according to Fox.