By Ben Spaeth
Photo: NPR – Source
The war in Ukraine has caused most of the Western world to heavily sanction Russia. While most of the severe sanctions leveled against Russia by the United States directly target the Russian economy, it seems Hollywood has devised a set of sanctions of their own. For instance, Warner Bros. announced recently that they have paused the release of The Batman in Russia. Universal has also followed suit. They pulled the release of their new animated film The Bad Guys and upcoming Michael Bay movie Ambulance.
Other studios that have pulled their major films from the country include Disney, Sony, and Paramount. Disney pulled their most recent Pixar title, Turning Red, Sony pulled their Jared Leto led Marvel movie, Morbius, and Paramount pulled Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Netflix also announced that they will pause future projects and acquisitions from Russia.
While at first glance it may be easy to think that these studios are pulling their films in solidarity with the Ukrainian people, the truth may lie somewhere in between. When the European Union cut Russia off from the SWIFT banking system, it may have compromised how American studios get paid off the Russian box office. SWIFT is the global interbank messaging system. It allows for the transfer of money across international borders. Because Russia has been removed from the system, studios may not be able to receive money that would be transferred back to them by Russian distributors. Making releasing films in Russia a risky endeavor for the time being.
As to how this will affect box office numbers, that is still unclear. Some of the biggest movies this year have now been pulled from the Russian market. The Russian box office isn’t as large as the American or Chinese market, but is sizable enough that we may see a slight difference in earnings. If we look at Uncharted, the latest big American release, about 5% of the total box office came from Russia. That may seem insignificant, but in a business where movies earn hundreds of millions of dollars, losing 5% can be a pretty tough blow. Even if a movie is slated to make well past its budget. For instance, The Batman will no doubt make back all the money spent on its production and marketing, but The Batman is a tentpole film for Warner Bros. I wouldn’t be surprised if The Batman ends up with the largest box office numbers for the year. Losing even 5% of the profits on a film that’s projected to earn over $100 million opening weekend is still a lot to lose and will certainly affect the bottom lines of a lot of major studios.
Most likely though, this cost was factored in when the decision was made by studios to start pulling their movies from Russia. Although this makes me wonder if studios still would’ve done the same if Russia was a bigger media market like China. Most studios are more than happy to make major changes to their films in order to get released in China. It’s strange to see a company like Disney participate in the pulling of films when just two years ago they filmed sections of Mulan in a part of mainland China believed to be near where the Uighur internment camps were.
There certainly seems to be a layer of hypocrisy when it comes to how we treat international crises. China is allowed to force over a million people into internment camps with little blow back from the West, but the invasion of Ukraine is where we draw the line? If Ukrainians weren’t widely seen as being white, I doubt we’d see this type of push back to this invasion. This isn’t meant to belittle the war in Ukraine in any way. I stand strongly in support of the Ukrainian people. I just wish that these decisions to punish those who do wrong were applied across the board.