The film was also co-produced by Tencent, the Chinese internet conglomerate with a growing presence in movies. Sony Pictures is its distributor in the United States and many other countries, though not in China. Neither responded to requests for comment.
The fate of “Monster Hunter” illustrates China’s growing power in the film industry. Last year, it sold nearly $10 billion in tickets, according to government figures, and industry experts forecast that it would soon overtake the American market as the world’s largest.
The global pandemic has accelerated the trend. China’s movie theaters have gradually reopened as the country has contained the coronavirus within its borders. In the United States, by contrast, studios are making plans to release movies over streaming services as infections spread and deaths rise.
China can be a complicated market, however. While its avid moviegoers love “The Transformers” and other big-budget American movies, studios must manage Beijing’s strict censorship, its desire to build a domestic film industry and cultural differences that can turn off or offend audiences.
Big studios have teamed up with Chinese partners and sprinkled their casts with local actors, but the efforts aren’t always rewarded. In 2017, critics accused “The Great Wall,” an action film starring Matt Damon, of whitewashing. They have said that in other films, Chinese-American actors have been dropped as seeming afterthoughts into scenes.
Seeking Chinese audiences has become particularly fraught as feelings of nationalism spread online, sometimes egged on by official Chinese media. Other companies, including Mercedes-Benz and the hotel chain Marriott, have also been pressured into apologizing to China, after online critics or state media criticized their advertising or other actions.
“Chinese audiences can’t bear having grit in their eye, and those who want to make money should weigh it up,” one film critic in China wrote on Weibo.