In a different reality, we’d right now be in the midst of Hollywood’s blockbuster season, enjoying the nearly weekly unveiling of a major event movie, including much anticipated sequels (F9), new installments of beloved properties (No Time to Die), and promising date-night fare (The Lovebirds). Instead, well, you’re cooped up in your place trying to figure out what to watch while not going stir-crazy.
This is where we come in. On a regular basis, we’ll be presenting “The Replacements”: a list of five alternative choices for every big tentpole you’d been excited to see before COVID-19 changed our lives. We’ll select movies that are thematically or narratively similar to the postponed blockbuster, offering picks that range from cool obscurities to certifiable classics to forgotten gems. For the time being, event movies are on hold. But hopefully our alternatives will help scratch that cinematic itch.
This week: Mulan, a live-action remake of the 1998 animated Disney film. In the new version, which was slated to be released this past weekend, Yifei Liu plays Mulan, a young woman who takes her aging warrior father’s place in the Chinese army as the kingdom prepares for war. But she’ll have to disguise herself as a man since it’s an all-male military. Will she be found out? Will she discover her inner martial-arts master? And will the remake include a rocking new cover of “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”? We have no idea. But in the meantime, let us recommend five replacements that might tide you over.
Sure! Yentl! There is, uh, obviously not a ton of crossover with a story of a woman becoming a warrior and a woman trying to learn Talmudic law, but there are two obviously superficial connections between this and Mulan: They’re both about a woman impersonating a man to be involved in something deprived from her because of her gender, and Yentl and the original Mulan both have some lovely songs. So if you’re into those things, and those things specifically, here’s your movie.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
A Chinese-American production before that became commonplace, Ang Lee’s wuxia masterpiece was a crossover hit in every possible way: a foreign-language film that won Oscars, an action fantasia that filled multiplexes across the country, and a big, ambitious epic that flies by and plays like gangbusters. And, of course, the movie, like Mulan, features some terrific female characters, played by the incredible Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi, who became massive stars in America as they had been overseas. Crouching Tiger sings just as well today as it did 20 years ago.
This beloved Disney film — part adventure story, part musical, part fairy tale — came out at a time when the studio was changing course, moving away from its traditional princess narratives and embracing more action-oriented animated stories. (“Films and genres do run a course,” Disney Animation head Ed Catmull said at the time. “They may come back later because someone has a fresh take on it … but we don’t have any other musicals or fairy tales lined up.” Little did he know that Frozen would soon be on the horizon.) As a result, Tangled went through some major tinkering before it hit theaters — the studio wanted to make sure the film appealed to boys and girls equally. Nonetheless, this is a satisfying blend of different genres and tones — both exciting and sentimental — as it takes the classic Rapunzel story and gives it a hip, heart-tugging twist. And much like the original Mulan, it features a dynamic female lead who’s far from your prototypical princess.
The Great Wall (2016)
The most expensive film ever shot entirely in China, this co-production from Hero director Zhang Yimou looks like they spent every penny. It is also completely insane. Basically, Matt Damon, with the worst hair Matt Damon will ever have in a movie, teams with Pedro Pascal and the Chinese Nameless Order to protect the Great Wall of China from … monsters! Lots of monsters! The Great Wall makes no sense, is overwhelming from start to finish, and never really decides how self-consciously ridiculous it wants to be. That does not make it any less of a silly blast. America and China, it turns out, can work together just fine at making a bloated, nonsensical, goofy blockbuster.
Wonder Woman (2017)
In the time since the original Mulan came out, Hollywood has become more comfortable with the idea of the female-led action movie. But with all due respect to Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Kill Bill, and Atomic Blonde, we’re going with this blockbuster 2017 film, which suggested that perhaps DC Comics could maybe someday compete with Marvel for theatrical dominance. Gal Gadot was a perfect Diana — not just a valiant warrior but also blessed with killer deadpan comic timing — and Wonder Woman hit upon a crafty mix of spectacle, humor, and romance. Plus, unlike some of its peers, Wonder Woman will play well with all ages, so if you’re looking for a family-night alternative for Mulan, this one will do the trick. And don’t worry if you’ve seen the movie before: We have it on good authority that it holds up on multiple viewings.