Disney’s “Mulan” Release Upsetting Exhibitors

When it was announced on Tuesday that Disney’s live-action reimagining of their 1998 animated feature “Mulan” would be a ‘premium access’ title on the Disney+ service as well as hitting cinemas in select international countries, it wasn’t explained as to whether the film was still going to be shown in the countries where Disney+ was available.

In the time since however, it has become quite clear they are forgoing any planned theatrical release in countries like the U.S., U.K., Australia, Japan and key western Europe markets where the Disney+ service is active. Instead, audiences will have to pay $29.99 to rent “Mulan” on a semi-permanent basis (you keep it as long as you keep a Disney+ subscription).

Like it or not, the film’s release is seen as a pivotal moment – a big budget first-run studio feature from the studio most adamant about keeping the theatrical exclusivity model intact is trialing a mostly PVOD launch. How much “Mulan” can make on VOD will be a hard number to get out of Disney short of it being a massive unqualified success – thus becoming a potential leverage point in future negotiations with exhibitors.

On the one hand they have the advantage of releasing it through their own service – meaning they keep all the income of each purchase as opposed to having to split it with exhibitors or pay a percentage to another distribution service like iTunes or Amazon. On the other, $29.99 could be considered simply too high and thus turn people away.

Exhibitor Relations analyst Jeff Bock sats that before the pandemic, Disney was likely targeting a $70-85 million domestic opening and a $210 million domestic total haul for “Mulan,” along with a $750 million or so global total haul with much of that coming from China.

It’s unlikely Disney would’ve seen anything close to that had it gone full theatrical this month, but will it be more or less than via this approach?

Understandably cinema owners are not happy with any of this. One smaller cinema chain owner tells Deadline: “This is a death blow to theaters – did we just lose Disney as a provider? Think about this, every exhibitor has to readjust and start over with everything in their rental deals… If you’re a mall 20-plex theater – you’re toast.”

UK cinema owner Kevin Markwick tweeted: “Thanks Disney chums, we’ll be here warm & waiting for you when you plan to return, having existed on thin air and love & cuddles and happy thoughts.”

UNIC, the exhibition union that’s essentially the European equivalent of NATO, has issued a statement that feels like a war declaration: “New content must be released in cinemas first and observe a significant theatrical window. While many on the distribution side have indicated that ‘we are all in this together,’ recent events make it clearer than ever that this sentiment must be backed by actions as well as words.”

One cinema owner, Cinepal owner Gerard Lemoine, went viral posting a video of himself smashing a “Mulan” promotional display with a bat. He tells Deadline: “By losing ‘Mulan,’ we lost the possibility of offering our audiences a long-awaited film that would have helped us after these past hard weeks. It is also a bad message to send to the public.”

Disney stockholders are mostly happy with all of this, investors have reportedly rallied around the conglomerate’s fast-growing streaming footprint and aggressive expansion strategy.

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