"The Martian," the sci-fi thriller that has been a huge hit so far in the United States, has also been a massive success abroad.

The film has taken in $119 million overseas, compared with $109 million domestically, according to entertainment data company Rentrak.

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And it's expected to rake in far more going forward.

People think the film will do particularly well when it is released in China, in part because the Chinese space program plays a key role in the film.

Some commentators - including Stephen Colbert - have suggested the film contains the plot point as a way to crack into the country's huge and lucrative film market.

As people who have read the book on which the movie was based point out, the novel also includes mentions of China, and it seems doubtful that author Andy Weir was thinking about Chinese box office revenue when he wrote it.

Still, the phenomenon - Hollywood casting the Chinese in a flattering light to do better in that box office market - is real.

There are lots of recent Hollywood films that Colbert doesn't mention that are designed to appeal to China, some more subtly than others.

In fact, the Chinese government and its support of censorship now has a surprisingly big hand in shaping the movies that Americans make and watch.

Films such as "Transformers: Age of Extinction," "X-Men: Days of Future Past," "Looper," "Gravity," "Iron Man 3" and many more appear to have adapted their plots to woo Chinese censors and audiences.

The reasons are obvious: There is a ton of money at stake.

Global revenue data gathered by Rentrak show that China is solidly in place as the world's second biggest box office market, after surpassing Japan in 2012.

For the first time, Chinese box office revenue even surpassed those of the United States for one weekend last year - Chinese New Year, one of the busiest times of year for Chinese movie theaters.

What's more, there's still a lot more growth potential in the country. Chinese box office revenue rose by almost a third last year, to $4.8 billion, even as revenue in the United States shrank.

In just the first half of this year, Chinese box office receipts had already reached $3.3 billion, according to state media.

Only a select number of American films are allowed to compete in China.

To protect its own film industry and keep censorship controls in place, China caps the number of foreign films that reach theaters to 34 per year, creating an environment of tough competition for Hollywood studios.

The films that China lets in tend to be the big animated movies, like "Kung Fu Panda" or "Wall-E," or big-budget action films - relatively safe and simple plot lines that don't require a lot of subtitles, dubbing or cultural understanding for audiences to enjoy.

For Hollywood movies trying to get on this select list, portraying China in a positive light is key.

Any foreign film that is shown in theaters in China must be approved by the Film Bureau, part of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, which reports to the highest levels of the Chinese government.

Aynne Kokas, an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, says Chinese censors reject films with sex, violence, anything that puts the Chinese government in a bad light and even supernatural content, because the Communist Party has a long tradition of combating superstition.

These limitations are actually leading Hollywood to try to provide more family films for China, especially after the huge success of the "Kung Fu Panda" franchise, Kokas said.

"Then you don't have to say that you're changing your film substantially with the censors, because the censors wouldn't have a problem with your film in the first place."

Observers have called out some Hollywood studios for making substantial changes to their films in recent years to please Chinese censors.

Some of these changes are subtle.

The creators of "Iron Man 3," for example, lengthened some scenes featuring a Chinese doctor and added Fan Bingbing, a famous Chinese actress, to the cast for the film's Chinese version. And for the 2012 film "Looper," the filmmakers ultimately changed the location of the city of the future from Paris to Shanghai.

Other attempts to appeal to China are more blatant - for example, recent plot changes that Sony Pictures Entertainment made to several movies, which were revealed by leaked emails now housed on WikiLeaks.

One e-mail exchange shows that Sony decided to cut scenes of aliens blasting a hole in the Great Wall of China from the 2015 movie "Pixels," with Adam Sandler, to improve the chances that its film would be shown in China.

The aliens ended up blasting the Taj Mahal, the Washington Monument and Manhattan instead.

Leaked Sony emails show a similar calculus for 2014 film "RoboCop." "Changing the China elements to another country should be a relatively easy fix," Steven O'Dell, president of Sony Pictures Releasing International, wrote in an exchange about some elements in the film that might anger Beijing's censors.

But the most egregious example of a Hollywood movie pandering to the Chinese government is probably Paramount's brainless 2014 blockbuster "Transformers: Age of Extinction."

The film, which one critic describes as director Michael Bay's "wet kiss" to Beijing, was made as what's called an "officially assisted production," with Paramount working in partnership with Chinese company Jiaflix Enterprises and China's official state broadcaster, CCTV.

Part of the movie's action is set in Hong Kong, a former British colony that is officially a special administrative region of China and the site of recent pro-democracy protests.

In the film, a sea captain in Hong Kong appeals to the central government in Beijing for help, and China's defense minister earnestly vows to defend Hong Kong - what Justin Chang, a critic at Variety, calls "a mainland-pandering scene that the movie dares to put across with a straight face."