Despite the film’s much-remarked-upon shortcomings, you’ve got to give the critically lambasted New Mutants credit for a kind of startling consistency — confounding expectations about how and when the average person is actually able to see the PG-13 superhero movie. The horror-slanting X-Men spinoff saw its theatrical release agonizingly delayed four times over the last three years only to finally hit screens at a time when more than a third of movie theaters were still closed owing to coronavirus lockdown measures. Since August 28, The Breakfast Club meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest comic-book caper has remained one of the few new titles at the multiplex in the latter half of 2020, standing firm while audiences display an alarming reluctance to return to the public-viewing forum and event films such as No Time to Die and Dune pull up stakes and flee into release corridors next year.
And now, on the heels of Mutants’ $42 million worldwide theatrical run — ranking it next to Howard the Duck as one of the lowest-grossing Marvel-associated movies to date — Disney has announced the asylum thriller will arrive on Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD DVD, and Digital HD formats on November 17. Befitting a troubled production that underwent numerous roundelays of rewriting and spent years in development hell, the “Ultimate Collectors Edition” will feature seven deleted scenes in a naked bid to appeal to X-Men completists. Which all points toward The New Mutants bucking another film trend of the COVID-19 era by side-stepping streaming and going straight to home video.
Since the first quarter of the year, Disney — which folded the Fox-produced title into its existing slate of films as part of last year’s $71.3 billion megamerger — has pressed reset on its traditional distribution methods. The studio famously forwent a theatrical release of Mulan to offer rental of the $200 million China-set period thriller on its streaming platform Disney+ for $29.99. Likewise, the House of Mouse’s filmic version of the smash Broadway musical Hamilton skipped multiplexes to become available on the platform in July.
The choice to follow up Mutants’ theatrical bow with a DVD rollout just over three months later can be understood as standard operating procedure; many titles wind up on home video after a 70- to 90-day “window” from their box-office arrival has closed. But amid 2020’s pandemic-panicked movie marketplace, the move to Blu-Ray is more unusual. In March, Universal made three of its films, The Invisible Man, Emma. and The Hunt, concurrently available for both streaming rental and in theaters in what was considered an industry first. Since then, the migration of theatrical movies to streaming or PVOD has eclipsed any conversation surrounding DVD sales.
However, according to recent reports, studio attempts to recoup expenditures on their higher-profile features via paid streaming releases are facing the rise of a somewhat expected consequence: piracy. The website TorrentFreak (which tracks pirating activity on public servers) noted that unlicensed downloads of Mulan have outpaced those of all other movies since its September 4 debut, remaining at the top of its list of “most torrented” movies. (While video-disc piracy remains an ever-present concern, recent raids in nearly two dozen countries around the world have plunged the DVD-piracy diaspora into chaos.)
To hear it from Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian, The New Mutants is unlikely to hit financial break even at the box office before arriving on DVD (the film’s production budget is reported to be between $60 million and $80 million, and movie theaters generally take about half the box-office gross). But the film may ultimately be able to parlay its notoriety as one of the scant few major releases to see the inside of theaters this year into a DVD selling point — bonus materials and all — that could push it toward profitability.
“Even though [New Mutants] only came out and did $7 million over its opening weekend, by keeping it in theaters this long, Disney makes it more coveted when it hits home video — especially in these strange times,” Dergarabedian says. “Any of these movies like Unhinged, Tenet, New Mutants, they have a very good shot at doing well on home video … There’s the curiosity factor. The buy in is much lower.”
Although Disney has not publicly stated its rationale for releasing the movie as physical (as opposed to exclusively virtual) product, X-Men-branded video discs remain top sellers and the studio has an illustrious history of using its movie IP as revenue drivers for a dazzling array of consumer products such as toys, clothing, and theme-park rides. Despite craptacular reviews and catastrophic box office, last year’s franchise low point X-Men: Dark Phoenix debuted at No. 1 on the NPD VideoScan First Alert chart. And boxed sets such as X-Men: The Cerebro Collection 3D, X-Men and the Wolverine Adamantium Collection, and X-Men Trilogy remain constants at retail.
Dergarabedian speculates that even in spite of myriad profit-sharing agreements that exist between the studio’s theatrical and home-video divisions, Mutants could surpass unspectacular early returns and defy financial expectations. “Strangely enough, it could wind up that this movie mutates into a hit at the end of the day,” he adds. “We have to adjust our expectations. It’s not just one thing. There are so many layers to this in terms of both financials and consumer behaviors.”