By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The steamy novel "Fifty Shades of Grey" is a global phenomenon, but fans in China and other countries will not be able to see the movie version in theaters even though the sex scenes have has been toned down for the big screen.
The film adaptation opened this week in 57 international markets, including France, where it was declared suitable for anyone 12 or older.
The movie tells the story of a sexual relationship between a wealthy businessman and a college student and includes scenes that depict whipping and bondage.
The distributor, Comcast Corp unit Universal Pictures, is not pursuing a theatrical release in China - the world's second-largest film market - according to a source with knowledge of the studio's plans who spoke on condition of anonymity. Sexually explicit films generally do not make it past Chinese government censors.
Three countries that often object to sexual content - Malaysia, Indonesia and Kenya - have banned "Fifty Shades" from theaters.
In Malaysia, the head of the film censorship board called it "more pornography than a movie," according to Hollywood trade publication Variety. The distributor in Indonesia said the film did not meet the country's censorship standards.
Kenyan authorities gave no reason for their ban but have a history of censoring sexually explicit content. They prohibited the 2013 blockbuster "The Wolf of Wall Street," a film that contains graphic depictions of sex and drugs.
At the film's London premiere, "Fifty Shades" author E.L. James said, "Oh, the book was banned in a few countries.
"It’s great publicity, and you know the DVD will come out and hopefully they'll get to see it then."
It is unclear whether "Fifty Shades" will be shown in India or throughout the Middle East. Only Lebanon is scheduled to show it.
BOOK FRENZY DRIVES TURNOUT
Film critics have found the sex scenes tamer than the book. "Those looking for hot, kinky sex will be disappointed," Claudia Puig of the newspaper USA Today wrote in her review.
Most countries are welcoming the movie, and box-office analysts project strong international ticket sales. Markets where the film is playing include Britain, Germany, Hong Kong, Australia, Russia, Singapore and Japan.
The film took in $28.6 million in 34 markets where it played on Wednesday and Thursday and set several records. In Argentina, the movie ranked as the largest opening day ever for any film in that market.
"Fifty Shades" collected $8.6 million Thursday night in the United States and Canada, which together form the world's biggest movie market.
A Universal spokesman declined to comment on whether the film was edited for some overseas markets, where studios get an increasingly larger share of ticket sales.
"Fifty Shades of Grey" is the first volume in a trilogy by James. The three books have sold more than 100 million copies and have been translated into 52 languages.
"Just do the math on that," said Phil Contrino, chief analyst at movie website Boxoffice.com. "Even if a third of the people who have read the book go to see the movie, that's a lot of money right there."
Fans are counting on a sequel or sequels to see the other two books brought to the screen, but Universal has not yet said whether there will be another "Fifty Shades" film.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Additional reporting by Helena Williams in London; Editing by Mary Milliken and Jonathan Oatis)