James Cameron's €0.7 billion epic Avatar is to be banned from being screened in China because the country’s sensors believe the Hollywood blockbuster’s plot will lead to civil unrest, according to reports.
The Golden Globe-winning film, which was expected to earn more than 500 million yuan (€51m) at the Chinese box office, will instead be replaced with a patriotic biopic on the life of Confucius, it was claimed.
Avatar, which won Cameron best director and also best film at the 67th annual Golden Globes at the weekend, is set on a distant planet populated by the Na'vi, an eco-conscious, blue-skinned alien tribe with no understanding of modern technology.
The science-fiction epic is on course to be the biggest grossing movie ever.
A disabled Marine, played by the Australian actor Sam Worthington, is sent to infiltrate the tribe but soon "goes native" and leads them in a defence of their homeland against the white invaders.
He also falls in love with an alien woman, who rejects a Na'vi suitor and becomes his wife.
The main Na'vi characters, who face the threat of eviction from their woodland home, are played by black actors, including Zoe Saldana and Laz Alonso.
But Chinese sensors are reportedly worried the film’s plot, which has been hit by accusations of racism, could lead to civil unrest in the country when it was due to premiere later this month.
Parallels have been drawn between the plight of the Na'vi and those in China vulnerable to, often brutal, eviction by predatory property developers, according to Hong Kong's Apple Daily.
The paper reported that the state-run China Film Group has issued orders to cinemas across the country to stop showing the 2D version of the film and only show the film in 3D.
Because so few cinemas have 3d technology, the order effectively prevents the blockbuster’s general distribution.
"The Central Publicity Department is said to have issued an order to the media prohibiting it from hyping up Avatar," the newspaper said.
“Reportedly, the authorities have two reasons for this check on Avatar: first, it has taken in too much money and has seized market share from domestic films, and second, it may lead audiences to think about forced removal, and may possibly incite violence.”
Bloggers are also speculating about the toll Avatar, which won 2 Golden Globes on Monday, could inflict on home-grown films.
The Confucius picture is directed by Hu Mei and stars Chow Yun-fat as the sage.
Reports said the film opened on January 4 and soon drew lengthy queues despite one of the coldest winters in years.
Box-office takings hit a record 56 million yuan (€5.6m) for a single day and IMAX cinemas due to show the full 3-D version are reportedly booked up for weeks.