August 16, 2022

Media Decoder: Soft-Pedal Captain America Overseas? Hollywood Says No

“Captain America: The First Avenger” stars Chris Evans in the leading role.Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment“Captain America: The First Avenger” stars Chris Evans in the leading role.

LOS ANGELES — Last week, Marvel Studios started to roll out ads for its newest movie star. He’s big and brawny! He’s star-spangled! He’s Captain America, marching into multiplexes everywhere!

Well, um — hold that. Almost everywhere.

Marvel knew it faced a marketing battle when it decided to make a movie about a 71-year-old Nazi-fighting supersoldier named Captain America.

Selling a quaintly patriotic war hero in a politically divided United States would be tricky enough. What about overseas, where movies can generate over 70 percent of their total box-office revenue and the word “America” can be a downright dirty one?

Marvel and Paramount Pictures, which is distributing “Captain America: The First Avenger,” figured they would simply release the film as the truncated “The First Avenger” in foreign countries. But in a surprise, Paramount’s overseas operation objected, arguing that Captain America had too much brand value, even in spots like France that are leery of embracing Team America too readily.

Hollywood renames movies for distribution overseas all the time, usually for translation purposes. “The Hangover Part II” became “Very Bad Trip 2” in France, for instance.

And studios routinely avoid overt Americana in marketing materials. In 2006, a nervous Warner Brothers changed the well-known Superman line “truth, justice and the American way” to “truth, justice and all that stuff” in “Superman Returns.” Paramount dropped the tagline “A Real American Hero” for its 2009 film about G.I. Joe, replacing it with “The Rise of Cobra.”

In the end, the studios decided that Captain America would keep his name in all but three countries: Russia, Ukraine and South Korea.

Why the change in those places? Spokeswomen for Marvel and Paramount declined to comment. But people with knowledge of the decision, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid a conflict with the studios, cited reasons of culture and politics in addition to brand awareness.

The cold war kept the comic book version of Captain America from putting down roots in Russia and Ukraine as he did elsewhere in the world, these people said. But anti-American sentiment was also a factor.

The studios ultimately decided too much ticket revenue was on the table in Russia and Ukraine, both fast-growing movie markets, to take a risk over the title.

South Korea is another story. Although that country is one of Hollywood’s top-performing territories, resentment about the continued presence of the United States military runs deep. Marvel and Paramount worry that those feelings are particularly strong among younger South Koreans, the ones who powered “Iron Man 2” to $27 million in ticket sales in that country last year.

Captain America sprang to life in Marvel Comics in 1940 as overt anti-Hitler propaganda. Marvel’s film, which will arrive in North American theaters on July 22, is set in that period and focuses on the character’s origin as a sickly guy who, after being rejected for enlistment, is transformed through science into a secret military weapon.

“Captain America: The First Avenger” is unlikely to be distributed under any title in China, which has become a hugely important box office market. Because China allows only 20 non-Chinese films to be shown in local theaters each year, it seems like a stretch that Cap, as he’s known to fans, would make the cut. But a final ruling has not been made.

Not that the film itself is taking any controversial stances on American foreign policy. Chris Evans, starring as Captain America, spouts lines like, “I don’t like bullies, wherever they’re from.”

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