Chinese fans breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday after Warner Bros. at last announced finalized China re-release dates for the first two “Lord of the Rings” films — a scant two days before the first is now scheduled to appear.
Official Chinese film media had initially stated in late March that re-runs of “The Fellowship of the Ring” would begin last Friday, April 9, followed by “The Two Towers” on April 16 and “Return of the King” on April 23.
The films have now been pushed back a week. “Fellowship” is set to hit April 16 and “The Two Towers” on April 23, while a date for “Return of the King” remains undetermined — leaving some fans disappointed that they will likely miss the opportunity to watch all three in theaters consecutively.
Warner kicked off its official Weibo announcement of the release dates with a translation of the classic quote: “One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them. One ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.”
“We invite you to return to Middle Earth and once again appreciate this heart-wrenching, immortal epic legend unfolding at grand scale,” it said, posting images of the new China posters. “Let’s all come witness the return of the legend on the big screen!”
“Thank you for not giving up!!! See you at the cinema!!!!” one excited fan gushed in the comments below. All three films will screen in restored 4K versions, in honor of the series’ 20th anniversary.
It seems unlikely that “Return of the King” will be scheduled for the Labor Day holiday weekend starting April 30. Authorities will likely try to avoid foreign premieres then so as to give the highly competitive field of 14 new local titles — which includes the latest from Zhang Yimou and buzzy rom-com “My Love” — a better chance at box office glory.
Hollywood titles have been instrumental in helping to boost Chinese box office figures and drum up demand for in-person theatrical experiences in the wake of the pandemic. The first two Peter Jackson-helmed films will hit at a comparatively quiet time for local releases, after the Chinese New Year behemoths have finally lost steam but the summer big guns have yet to gather momentum.
In past years, this period has been a prime slot for the premiere of big Hollywood blockbusters — but there simply aren’t that many of them this year given the number that have delayed their global releases due to COVID.
The “Lord of the Rings” re-releases come in the wake of a number of other re-runs of beloved American commercial classics. A re-release of James Cameron’s “Avatar” has grossed $56.6 million so far and counting since it returned to Chinese screens last month, 11 years after its initial in-country debut.
And last August, Warner Bros.’ “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” was one of the first titles approved to hit theaters when they re-opened post-COVID in hopes that it would pull cautious cinema-goers back to the big screen. It ended up grossing $29.4 million.
It had initially appeared as if all eight of the “Potter” films would hit Chinese cinemas, given that they had screened consecutively to a sold-out run at last summer’s Shanghai Intl. Film Festival. No word has come since, however, of when or if the other films will re-emerge.
Warner’s “Lord of the Rings” Weibo announcement was flooded by pleas for more “Potter.”
“Can you now continue to schedule the rest of ‘Harry Potter’?” one commenter asked alongside a row of watery eyed begging emojis.