Top Gun: Maverick now displays Taiwan’s official flag after a protest, jeopardizing its release in mainland China.
The box office mega-hit – by far Tom Cruise’s biggest commercial debut ever – now features his character with the flag on his iconic bomber jacket, also in the version shown in Taiwan.
Initially, the trailer of the film in 2019 had shown otherwise. During the preview, the patches on Cruise’s jacket, which originally carried flags representing Taiwan and Japan, appeared to have been swapped and replaced with two ambiguous symbols in the same color scheme.
That omission had angered some critics, sparking speculation that the change was made to appease Chinese censors and the film’s Chinese backer, Tencent. Tencent Pictures, a subsidiary of the Shenzhen-based tech giant, was an investor at the time in the highly anticipated sequel to the 1986 classic.
According to the report, the company feared it would be out of step with officials in Beijing for promoting a film celebrating the US military as US-China relations deteriorated. Tencent and Paramount Pictures, the studio behind the film, did not respond to a request for comment.
China and Taiwan have a complex relationship. Beijing’s communist leadership has long claimed Taiwan, a self-governing democratic island, as part of its territory, although it has never ruled over it.
As part of its campaign, the Chinese government has pressured multinational companies to consider Taiwan Chinese territory in exchange for access to the lucrative market.
The ride has been largely successful, with players like United Airlines, Delta Airlines, Marriott, American Express and Goldman Sachs falling in line. Hollywood movies have also become increasingly censored over the years as China became more important to the global box office.
Relations between China and Japan have also been fraught for a long time, with tensions escalating over disputed islands in the East China Sea in recent years.
Now, the update of the film is likely to anger some fans and officials in mainland China.
“It is very likely that Beijing will ban the release and monetization of ‘Top Gun’ in China,” said Chris Fenton, former president of DMG Entertainment and author of the book “Feeding the Dragon: Inside the Trillion-Dollar Dilemma.” Facing Hollywood, the NBA and corporate America.”
“There is also a chance that the Chinese government will ban the studio, filmmakers and actors for an extended period of time,” Fenton added. “We have witnessed similar punishments in the past.”
Since 2020, China’s strict “zero Covid” restrictions have resulted in many cinemas being closed for extended periods, including in Shanghai and Beijing. That’s in stark contrast to how moviegoers elsewhere have recently returned en masse to movie theaters around the world.
Currently, “Top Gun: Maverick” has not been released in mainland China and has no fixed opening date.
But Fenton noted that “that was a foregone conclusion,” given the heightened geopolitical tensions between the world’s two largest economies.
“A film that strongly promotes Western ideals and US military hegemony probably never stood a chance of being approved,” he said.
He also noted that the Chinese movie market has recently shunned Hollywood movies in favor of other titles. In recent months, patriotic propaganda war films have surpassed domestic box offices.
“That’s a likely calculation that led to the decision [for producers to include Taiwan’s flag]Fenton said. “The global goodwill generated by restoring the flags easily outweighs the potential revenue from China.”
The move delighted fans in Taiwan: social media users there cheered the decision online this week, some calling it a “pleasant surprise.”
Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst for Comscore, said the latest round of blockbusters, including “Top Gun” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” could still enjoy “huge international success” despite restrictions from ” some countries”. †
“Hollywood is beginning to realize it’s no longer worth pleasing the fickle and unpredictable censors of China,” said Fenton.
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