Parents hoping to head to a nearly-empty movie theater and see the new live-action Mulan, think again: Following the precedent set by No Time To Die and The Fast and Furious franchise, Disney has delayed the launch of several theatrical movies indefinitely, including New Mutants and Mulan.
Obviously, smart parents understand the growing concerns about large groups of people gathering unnecessarily increasing the risk of coronavirus transmission, and it’s not surprising Disney is making this move now. But could this outbreak point the way to a new model of film distribution that skips theaters entirely? Could studios throw families and tired parents a bone and make some of these movies available on-demand via pay-per-view or something?
Increasingly, tentpole blockbusters live and die by their opening weekend grosses. It does Disney no favors to release its first high-profile live-action film of 2020 at a time when a significant percentage of the audience may be in self-quarantine and in no mood to sit in a closed room for two hours surrounded by strangers. International grosses are a concern too: the release of Mulan had already been delayed in the overseas markets most affected by COVID-19, including China.
That thinking led Disney to remove two other films from the release slate, superhero flick New Mutants and horror-thriller Antlers, with no new dates set. Other studios are making similarly hard choices in order to protect their billion-dollar brands: April’s release of Fast 9 was pushed back a whole year and A Quiet Place 2 (originally set for March 20) has vanished from the schedule entirely.
Hollywood’s thinking seems to be that they’ll earn more money in the long run by waiting to release their biggest films when the whole world is able to go see them, and there’s no denying the allure of pulling in $1 billion at the box office. But as this site has already argued, there would seem to be just as strong an argument for releasing all of these films now, direct to streaming.
Charging a premium price for a one-day rental window—$20, $30, even more—might wind up being just as lucrative to the studios’ bottom lines as they won’t have to split the revenue with movie theaters (which seem likely to close altogether regardless). Certainly, Netflix has already proven people are more than happy to see brand-new movies at home first.
As parents, we must choose carefully what movies we attend at the best of times. Given the option, many families would likely stream Mulan on the opening weekend versus seeing it in the theater, coronavirus or no. With kids suffering from cabin fever and parents at their wits’ end, the decision would be even easier today—and if a direct-to-steaming strategy worked now, it could become the new normal for film distribution.