BEIJING (AP) - Walt Disney Co. said Monday it will co-produce its next "Iron Man" movie with a Chinese partner in Hollywood's latest effort to forge closer ties with China's fast-growing film industry.
"Iron Man 3," starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle, will begin filming this year, Walt Disney and its Chinese partner DMG Entertainment said. They said DMG will jointly produce the film in China but gave no indication whether any filming would take place in this country.
"We know Chinese audiences love Iron Man. So we are going to add Chinese elements and a Chinese story into Iron Man 3," Disney's general manager for Greater China, Stanley Cheung, said at a news conference.
Disney and Beijing-based DMG said the Chinese company will invest in "Iron Man 3" but gave no details.
Foreign film companies are launching ventures with Chinese partners to expand access to China, where box office receipts are growing rapidly at a time of weak sales in the United States and Europe.
China's ticket sales rose by one-third last year to $2 billion while revenue in North America, though still far larger at $10.2 billion, has fallen for two straight years.
The communist government wants Chinese studios to learn from Hollywood and is trying to attract foreign studios to form ventures by promising more market access and a bigger share of ticket sales.
DMG Entertainment is a unit of DMG, an advertising and media company founded in 1993 by three partners, two Chinese and one American.
The company co-produced the science fiction thriller "Looper," due to be released this year, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt. It includes scenes filmed in Shanghai.
For the past decade, China's state-run film distributors have allowed in only 20 foreign films per year for national distribution. The foreign share of ticket sales is limited to a range of 13.5 to 17.5 percent.
Last month, the government announced it will allow in an additional 14 foreign films if they are made in 3-D or for the big-screen Imax format. It raised the foreign share of ticket sales to 25 percent.
The "Iron Man" films, based on a Marvel Comics character, feature Robert Downey Jr. as a billionaire weapons-maker who fights villains wearing high-tech armor. Disney says the first two movies brought in a total of $1.2 billion.
"This cooperation will be very important to both countries, China and the United States," said Dan Mintz, DMG's CEO and a cofounder. "This film will be shot together with Chinese partners."
Disney rival DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. unveiled a venture last month with three Chinese companies to make animated and live action material. DreamWorks will own 45 percent of the venture.
Last June, Legendary Entertainment, producer of hits including "The Dark Knight," formed Legendary East with Chinese studio Huayi Brothers Media Corp. It plans one to two movies per year for global audiences, mainly in English and based on Chinese themes.
Another studio, Relativity Media, said last year it would make movies with two Chinese partners for global audiences and distribute movies in China.