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Hollywood refuses to open its biggest films in Russia

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Zoe Kravitz, left, and Robert Pattinson in a scene from "The Batman."
Jonathan Olley
Warner Bros.
This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Zoe Kravitz, left, and Robert Pattinson in a scene from "The Batman."

As Russia continues its invasion, the Ukrainian Film Academy has called for an international boycott of Russian cinema. Europe's film industry expressed solidarity, with the Cannes and Venice film festivals announcing they're barring anyone with ties to the Kremlin. Major Hollywood studios are taking action, too.

Warner Brothers had been scheduled to release The Batman to theaters in Russia on Friday. But days ago, WarnerMedia announced that in light of the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, it's pausing the release of its new superhero movie starring Robert Pattinson as the Dark Knight who faces down Gotham City's villains.

In Russia, Sony Pictures Entertainment will delay the film Morbius, starring Jared Leto as a doctor who becomes a vampire. Similarly, Paramount Pictures will not release the animated sequel Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and The Lost City, starring Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum, Daniel Radcliffe, Da'Vine Joy Randolph and Brad Pitt.

The Hollywood boycott of Russia is welcome news for producer Illia Svidler, the CEO of Ukrainian film distributor Kinolife.

"When all the big Hollywood movies are not released, people feel it," he said from an apartment in Dnipro, a six-hour drive from Kyiv. He's hunkering down there with his wife, their 8 month old daughter and his parents, and says when the air raid sirens go off, they shelter together in the bathroom.

The Walt Disney Company announced it's working with its NGO partners to provide humanitarian aid to Ukrainian refugees. For now, Disney is not releasing its theatrical films in Russia — starting with the Pixar animated film Turning Red.

For its part, Netflix is reportedly pausing its Russian original series and acquisitions. The streaming service also announced it has no plans to add state-backed content, considered to be propaganda.

Sony's action adventure film Uncharted, with Tom Holland, is one of the most popular movies in Russia. Last year, more than 10 million Russian moviegoers watched Spider-Man: No Way Home. Given that, Russian film critic Anton Dolin says the theatrical boycotts are "catastrophic," even "apocalyptic" for the Russian film industry.

In an op-ed piece for the Telegram Meduza news site, Dolin predicts that Russian film productions will be canceled and that Russian audiences will end up watching pirated Hollywood films, provided the Internet is still accessible.

Svidler notes that more than 70% of the films shown in Russia are Hollywood movies. The boycott will wipe out those profits, he says, which are helping fund Russia's military actions. "They will have only little independent films, Russian films," he says, adding that the boycott is a "good financial tool to stop the war."

Svidler says Ukrainian cinemas are now shuttered, and some movie studios have become shelters for families facing Russian bombs.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.