The next instalment of superhero franchise Iron Man will be a co-production between Disney and a Chinese partner, Walt Disney Co. announced Monday in Beijing.

The deal highlights the growing importance of the Chinese market to Hollywood studios.

Disney’s Chinese partner DMG Entertainment, based in Beijing, is an advertising and media company founded in 1993 by two Chinese and one American partner. 

The Iron Man films, based on a Marvel Comics character, tell the story of a billionaire weapons-maker who fights villains wearing high-tech armor.  Iron Man 3 will star Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle, but it’s also expected to have Chinese co-stars, possibly even a Chinese super-villain.

"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.

It will also be shot partly in China, though Disney could not say what parts of the storyline involve China. The first two movies in the series brought in a total of $1.2 billion US, Disney said.

DMG’s role will be to scout locations, set up Chinese film units, invest in the film and also to keep the script from running afoul of Chinese censors. The company also is co-producing Looper, a sci-fi thriller to come out this year starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. No financial terms of the deal were released.

Hollywood studios are looking for ways to work with Chinese partners to take advantage of the growing market there.

As the Chinese middle-class becomes more affluent, people are looking for leisure activities and cinemas are being built at a rapid rate throughout the country. China's ticket sales rose by one-third last year to $2 billion US.

North America is still a bigger market with box office of  $10.2 billion, but revenue has fallen for two straight years.

China puts a limit on the number of foreign productions allowed into the country, but is keen to make its own films as popular as Hollywood fare and  has encouraged Chinese firms to work with American studios.


With files from the Associated Press