‘Iron Man 3′ smashes opening box office record in China

By Sophie Brown, HONG KONG (CNN) — “Iron Man 3″ has set a new box office record in China, taking 130 million yuan ($21 million) on its opening day.

The appeal may have something to do with additional scenes added into the Chinese version of the film. The extra four minutes of footage feature product placement for a Chinese-branded milk drink and two new characters, Dr Wu and his assistant, played by top Chinese actors Wang Xueqi and Fan Bingbing, respectively.

Gitesh Pandya, editor of BoxOfficeGuru.com, described the scenes as “borderline propaganda” in an interview with CNN’s Andrew Stevens. But the inclusion of the scenes, he said, gave the film access to the Chinese market that other Hollywood studios lack.

The Walt Disney Company and Marvel Studios teamed up with Beijing-based DMG Entertainment for the third installment of the Iron Man series. DMG Entertainment is also a co-distributor in China, where some filming took place.

With China surpassing Japan as the world’s second largest movie market last year, studios that successfully appeal to Chinese audiences can reap sizeable profits. But navigating around the country’s censorship and other restrictions has proved a challenge for some.

When “Red Dawn” was released in China last year, a scene showing an invasion by Chinese forces was changed to the North Korean army, and a shoot-out scene set in Chinatown in “Men in Black 3″ was cut entirely.

“The American studios are desperate to get into China,” said Pandya. “And they’re looking for new ways to profit from this growing market. The population of just the middle class alone is much bigger than the entire United States population, so there’s tremendous potential there.”

Pandya predicts the movie’s gross profits in China will reach well over $100 million.

Robert Downey Jr. spoke of his fascination with Chinese culture during a promotional tour for the film in Beijing last month. “I’m interested in all things Chinese and I live a very Chinese life in America,” he said.

Globally, “Iron Man 3″ has already raked in more than $300 million since it premiered in London on April 18. The film opens in the U.S. on Friday.

Michael Bay’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” set the previous opening-day Chinese box office record in 2011, grossing 110 million yuan ($17 million).