LOS ANGELES (Agence France-Presse) - China has refused to approve the release of the biblical epic Noah starring Russell Crowe, which has already been banned in a string of Muslim countries for religious reasons, industry sources said.
Paramount Pictures tried to secure a release slot for the vast mainland Chinese market by stressing its "environmental message" and special effects, the Los Angeles Times reported.
But getting the Bible-based story past China's cinematic gatekeepers was stymied due to Beijing's sensitivities on religious issues, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
A source familiar with the issue, who declined to be identified, told AFP simply that the film "will not release in China", after Paramount submitted the film for import approval.
But a source told the Hollywood Reporter: "This was for religious reasons, though it seems the whole issue was quite complicated."
The Times cited a source who suggested Noah may also have been refused a Chinese release for commercial reasons, because several other Hollywood blockbusters are due out there in the coming weeks.
Foreign films are limited to 34 releases a year in China. But The Hollywood Reporter said the studio sought to have it imported under a "flat fee" basis, which meant it did not come under the quota allowed into China on a revenue-sharing basis.
Godzilla is due in Chinese cinemas on June 13. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 took US$10 million (S$12 million) in its first day in theatres over the weekend, while Captain America: The Winter Soldier has made more than US$115 million in China.
Noah has grossed US$99 million in six weeks since its release in the United States, according to box office tracker Exhibitor Relations. It has made another US$233 million overseas, the Times reported.
It is director Darren Aronovsky's highest-grossing movie, making more than US$300 million so far on an estimated budget of US$125 million.
The film, which swept to the top of North America's box office when it was released in March, has been banned in Bahrain, Indonesia, Malaysia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, among other countries.
The film also angered some Christian institutions in the US over Crowe's reportedly unconventional portrayal of Noah, who is regarded as an important figure in both Christianity and Islam.