LOS ANGELES - China has refused to approve the release of 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 Chinese mainland 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 trade journal.
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 LA 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 $10 million in its first day in theatres over the weekend, while "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" has made more than $115 million in China.
"Noah" has grossed $99 million in six weeks since its release in the United States, according to box office tracker Exhibitor Relations. It has made another $233 million overseas, the LA Times reported.
It is director Darren Aronovsky's highest-grossing movie, making more than $300 million so far on an estimated budget of $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 United States over Crowe's reportedly unconventional portrayal of Noah, who is regarded as an important figure in both Christianity and Islam.