In a drastic move that would have been all but unthinkable in the halcyon Hollywood era directly preceding our global pandemic, Disney announced plans to release its mega-budget live-action adaptation of Mulan on Disney+ September 4. On a financial earnings call Tuesday, Mouse House chief executive Bob Chepak detailed plans to theatrically rollout the $200 million China-set period epic only in countries where Disney’s proprietary OTT service is not available and to distribute Mulan as an on-demand title costing $29.99 per rental in countries including the U.S., Canada and New Zealand where Disney+ is up and running.
Mulan now stands as the first major tentpole movie to bypass North American theaters and head straight to streaming — a likely bellwether and possible tipping point for the film industry as Hollywood studio executives scramble to find alternative distribution schemes for their most lucrative titles at a time when most theaters across the country and in China, the world’s second biggest movie market, remain closed due to anti-gathering and COVID-19 curve-flattening restrictions.
Originally set for a March release, Disney first pushed Mulan onto a July 24 rollout due to coronavirus concerns. Then in June, the studio postponed the live-action remake again until August 21. Last month, after having already spent money to promote and advertise the film, Disney indefinitely yanked the title from its release calendar while leaving the theatrical releases for two other widely anticipated event films, The New Mutants and Black Widow, in place for later this year. Now Mulan is set to join such family-friendly PVOD films as Scoob! and Trolls World Tour — which took in nearly $100 million during its video on demand run — in skipping the multiplex this summer.
On the earnings call, however, Chapek was quick to note that the studio’s straight-to-streaming pivot was born of COVID-19 exigencies and does not reflect a new business strategy for Disney. “We’re looking at Mulan as a one-off as opposed to say some new business windowing,” he said Tuesday, adding that the maneuver will allow the studio a “chance to recapture some of our original investment.”
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