Mulan: The Other Shoe Drops
We’ve been tracking the reopening of theaters and the next batch of theatrical releases closely here at Cineluxe, and the movie-going world has been using Christopher Nolan’s Tenet as the benchmark for what other studios might do with their upcoming tentpole films.
Disney had been delaying the release of its live-action remake of Mulan in lockstep with Tenet, shifting back a week or so in response to Tenet’s fluid date, as if the studio wanted to use Nolan’s film to test the waters and gauge public sentiment about returning to the cinema. When Warner Bros. decided last week to release Tenet internationally first, followed by a limited roll-
out in the States as theaters reopen, all eyes turned to Disney wondering how it would respond.
I had speculated to Cineluxe editor-in-chief Mike Gaughn that Disney was in a unique position since they own their own movie theaters spread across theme parks and cruise ships where they could debut Mulan as part of the park/cruise experience. This would allow them to get the film out to a limited number of viewers, while keeping tight control on piracy.
Disney has shown itself nimble in adjusting to these unprecedented times, first making the decision to make Onward, the latest Disney/Pixar animated title, available for purchase via digital retailers within days of theaters closing back in March, and then moving the title to its Disney+ streaming service shortly after. The studio then decided to roll out Hamilton to Disney+ subscribers a full year ahead of its planned theatrical release; shortly after that, they canceled the theatrical release of Artemis Fowl and instead moved it to Disney+.
On Tuesday, Disney took its boldest and most unusual step so far by deciding to make Mulan available as a premium-viewing option on Disney+ starting September 4, while still opening it in theaters, beginning with the overseas market. The Disney+ rollout will be unique in that it will be a premium video title within a subscription service, meaning Disney+ subscribers wanting to watch Mulan will need to pay an additional one-time $29.99 fee for the privilege. Once paid, the title will “unlock” and be available for repeated viewings as long as the person continues their Disney+ subscription. There was no word as to how long the title would be a subscription-within-a-subscription model à la the dream world in Nolan’s Inception, but presumably at some point it will become available to all subscribers and likely even available at other digital retailers.
What this move shows is that studios—especially Disney—are remaining open, flexible, and proactive to different distribution strategies instead of just letting finished content molder away on a shelf—well, more likely a server—somewhere. With this summer movie season rapidly becoming a wash, studios will start looking to the next big film cycle—Christmas—which already has a full slate of planned releases.
You have to imagine other studios with streaming services—Warner’s HBO Max, NBCUniversal’s Peacock, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime, Netflix—are all eyeing how Disney’s premium pricing of Mulan plays out. If a large percentage of Disney+’s 100-million-plus subscribers decide to bite on the $29.99 fee, might we see Warner’s upcoming Wonder Woman 1984—one of the next major films set to release currently on October 2—give this a try? Or might high-profile Netflix titles like Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman or Chris Hemsworth’s Extraction start coming with a premium? And without having to share any of this revenue with cinemas or distribution partners, might it actually be more cost-effective to look at this avenue going forward?
If you are a theater owner, this has to be the nightmare scenario. How long will doors be able to remain closed and weather the storm of potentially billion-dollar films going straight to home?
One thing is for sure: It’s a good time to have a luxury home cinema to fall back on to enjoy movies in the safety and comfort of your own home, however they are delivered.
Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at
@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.