Chinese authorities pulled The Da Vinci Code off movie screens nationwide on Friday, apparently as a concession to state-backed Chinese Catholic groups that warned that the film threatened social stability.
The movie has already generated millions in revenue for the state-owned company that distributed it, and its popularity seems undeniable. The film, based on the best-selling novel by Dan Brown, which has been criticized as insulting to Catholics, had earned more money than any other in China this year and was viewed as a contender to overtake Titanic as the highest grossing film ever in China.
But protests by China's official Patriotic Catholic Association and a demonstration involving a few dozen Catholics in Hebei Province were cited as evidence that the film was becoming a political risk, according to people involved in the decision to withdraw it.
Removing the film after its strong 22-day run suggested that the authorities had struck a balance between Chinese Catholic leaders and the China Film Corp, the state-owned company that brought the film to China.
China Film was permitted to collect hefty revenues and recoup its investment in importing, advertising and distributing the film. But the state-backed Catholic leadership was also able to claim a victory at a time when it has struggled with the Vatican for the loyalty of Chinese Catholics.
"Our view is that it should never have been released in the first place," Liu Bainian (
Liu issued a call to boycott the film in the middle of last month, when it was first released in Chinese theaters, that initially went unheeded. He declined to comment on why the authorities had reversed themselves after three weeks of brisk ticket sales, but called the decision a victory.
But a more senior official at China Film said China's Propaganda Department ordered the film removed from screens.
The official, who said he could not be identified because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said the film had earned more than 100 million yuan (US$12.5 million) and continued to sell far more tickets than any other movie.
"The decision was political and had nothing to do with declining ticket sales," the official said.