HONG KONG — Marvel movies will be released on screens in mainland China for the first time in more than three years, the end of an apparent ban in the world’s second-biggest movie market.

The surprise news will be a boost to fans as well as Marvel owner Disney, which has missed out on hundreds of millions of dollars in ticket sales.

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” will hit theaters on February 7, Marvel said Tuesday on the Chinese social media platform Weibo, while “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” will follow on February 17, the same day. that arrives out in the United States.

They are the first Marvel movies since 2019’s «Avengers: Endgame» and «Spider-Man: Far From Home» to be shown in China, where there is strict censorship and the release of foreign films is limited to promote domestic ones. A host of the studio’s superhero movies have been banned from Chinese theaters since then, including «Spider-Man: No Way Home,» «Eternals,» «Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,» and «Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”, the first Marvel film with a predominantly Asian cast.

The China Film Administration, a division of the ruling Communist Party’s propaganda department that approves all foreign film releases, gave no official explanation for the blocking of those films. Experts have speculated that the reasons could include the inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters, comments critical of China from people involved in the films such as “Eternals” director Chloé Zhao, and broader US-China tensions over trade and other issues.

Marvel’s brief announcement did not mention the previous movies or say why «Black Panther» and «Ant-Man» would be released. In 2018, the first «Black Panther» film grossed $105 million in China, while the second «Ant-Man» film grossed $121 million, according to figures from Box Office Mojo. «Avengers: Endgame» grossed $632 million, making it the most successful foreign film in China.

Marvel fans in China welcomed the news of the two new releases.

«Do you know how I lived the last few years without you?» read a comment on Weibo.

Others lamented the films that did not make it to Chinese theaters.

«Can you re-screen ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Doctor Strange’ as well?» wrote a Weibo user.

China overtook North America as the world’s largest movie market in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic depressed ticket sales in the US and Canada, but fell to second place last year when outbreaks of the variant highly transmissible omicron caused massive lockdowns under strict “zero-Covid controls”.

Both Marvel films will be released after Lunar New Year, China’s biggest holiday, which regulators typically reserve for war epics glorifying the Chinese military and other domestic films.

Among the biggest movies hitting Chinese theaters for the holiday, which officially kicks off this Sunday, are «Full River Red,» a comedy by internationally renowned director Zhang Yimou, and «The Wandering Earth 2,» a prequel to the sci-fi hit of 2019. .

In another positive sign for Hollywood, James Cameron’s blockbuster «Avatar: The Way of Water» will remain in Chinese theaters over the holidays, having grossed more than $200 million since it opened there last month.