China's Ghost Movie Ban Imperils 'Crimson Peak'

The second-biggest film market is off-limits for movies that "promote cults or superstition."

Tom Hiddleston, like Benedict Cumberbatch, has a lot of fans in China. But Hiddlestoners in the People's Republic may or may not get a chance to see the actor's latest movie, "Crimson Peak." That's because Chinese authorities do not allow any movies that "promote cults or superstition" to be screened in theaters -- and that includes any movie that depicts ghosts and ghouls as if they were real. 

"Crimson Peak," which was directed by "Pan's Labyrinth" auteur Guillermo Del Toro and released in the U.S. on Oct. 16, certainly does that. The first line in the movie, and even its trailer, is "Ghosts are real, that much I know." There's even a brief pseudoscientific explanation in the movie for the existence of ghosts -- something involving minerals in the soil. And ghosts pop up on screen regularly throughout the entire film. 

So although some horror movies have gotten around the ghost ban by either explaining away their presence as a hallucination or by editing out offending scenes, neither path seems open to the makers of "Crimson Peak."

That's a big deal because the Chinese film market has quickly grown to be the second-biggest in the world, with well over $5 billion in annual box office receipts. And the enthusiasm of Chinese filmgoers has saved several movies -- including Del Toro's last one, "Pacific Rim" -- from being financial failures.

So far, "Crimson Peak" has underperformed at American movie theaters, netting just $16 million in its first weekend, despite showing on almost 3000 screens. So it needs foreign money badly. The China Film Bureau hasn't yet announced a decision on the movie, so for now, its financial future is in limbo -- a scarier prospect for its investors than any ghost. 

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