To say that Top Gun: Maverick has been a massive success is an understatement. The highly anticipated sequel grossed nearly $1.5 billion worldwide and was embraced by critics as one of the best movies of the year. But that huge box office figure doesn’t include any Chinese ticket sales; the movie was never screened in China due to the way it celebrates American military prowess.
Instead, China set out to make its own version of Top Gun: Maverick called Born to Fly. But according to a new story in The Hollywood Reporter, the film — which was supposed to be released on Sept. 30 — was “mysteriously grounded just days before its planned opening,” and since then “no update has been given.”
This was no small production, either. Born to Fly was set to star Wang Yibo, a pop star described by the publication as “China’s Harry Styles,” and it was produced with full cooperation from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force. So why did it get unceremoniously shelved? It turns out the original Top Gun: Maverick was simply too good.
“Chinese authorities never comment directly on censorship decisions, but the word within the Beijing film industry is that Born to Fly’s producers were made to realize that their movie’s stunts and visual effects were far inferior to Top Gun: Maverick’s and that the Chinese version risked ridicule in comparison — all of which would have been most unwelcome, even politically dangerous, given that the two films are, in part, propagandistic displays of the United States’ and China’s military strengths,” The Hollywood Reporter notes. “Some in China who have seen Born to Fly have said that the movie disappointed the Chinese air force because of both its overall perceived shabbiness and its mistaken reference to China’s proudly homemade J-20 jet as a ‘fourth-generation’ stealth fighter, rather than, correctly, a more advanced, fifth-generation plane of its kind. Most of all, though, the original timing of the underwhelming Chinese film’s release — on Sept. 30 — couldn’t have been more fraught, coming just two weeks before the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, where Xi Jinping was anointed with an unprecedented third term as China’s top leader. It was a moment of historic political sensitivity in the country, a time when Party leadership would brook no embarrassments.”
As of now, there’s no word on if and when Born to Fly will ever see the light of day. As one source told the publication, “It could come anytime, or it might never come at all.”
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