Only in 3D … Chinese moviegoers watch Avatar in a cinema in Hefei, in Anhui province. According to news reports, Chinese cinemas will stop showing the 2D version of the film from 23 January. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images
guardian.co.uk(Ben Child)-It would appear to be a case of shutting the door after the big blue alien has bolted. If, as has been reported, censors move to scale back Avatar's Chinese run later this week due to fears it could cause unrest, they will do so in the knowledge that James Cameron's sci-fi megalith has already been seen in cinemas by unprecedented numbers in the world's most populous nation.
Studio Twentieth Century Fox reported yesterday that the film had smashed the all-time Chinese box-office record with a haul of $73.2m (£44.6m) after just two weeks of screenings. That moves it past the $63m taken by previous box-office champion 2012 as recently as last month: the Chinese record is falling on a regular basis due to huge increases in the number of cinema screens in the country.
The Hollywood Reporter said many in the north of China braved freezing temperatures at the weekend to pay around 80 yuan (£7) for tickets, though in some cases touts were reportedly selling them for up to 300 yuan (£27). Not that they'll have much more opportunity – Chinese media, in particular Hong Kong's Apple Daily, have reported that the state-run China Film Group has ordered cinemas across the country to only show the 3D edition of the film and stop showing the 2D version from 23 January, effectively preventing its general distribution.
Parallels had been drawn between the plight of the Na'vi, who face the threat of eviction from their woodland home in Cameron's blockbuster, and those in China vulnerable to displacement by predatory property developers. Reports suggested Avatar would be replaced with screenings of a patriotic biopic on the life of Confucius.
China's box office is still small compared with North America's, but the country is a growing marketplace for Hollywood films. That growth is hampered, however, by a ruling that only 20 foreign movies can be imported into cinemas each year. Cameron himself visited Beijing in December as part of Avatar's press tour, calling on the Chinese government to end the restriction, which is also being challenged by the World Trade Organisation.
Avatar currently stands at No 2 in the all-time global box-office chart, behind Cameron's own Titanic, with $1.6bn. It is likely to overtake its predecessor's $1.842bn worldwide tally within two weeks to become the highest grossing release in history, unadjusted for inflation.
Meanwhile, a 42-year-old Taiwanese man with a history of high blood pressure has died of a stroke likely triggered by over-excitement from watching Avatar in 3D, according to the AFP press agency. The man, who suffered from hypertension, started to feel unwell during a screening earlier this month in the northern city of Hsinchu, and was taken to hospital. He died 11 days later from a brain haemorrhage. "It's likely that the over-excitement from watching the movie triggered his symptoms," said emergency room doctor Peng Chin-chih.