In a normal timeline, media journalists would analyze the box office figures for a movie like Mulan. The live-action wuxia remake of the hit 1998 cartoon musical, tailored to appeal to Chinese moviegoers seemed destined to be a huge win for Disney. Clever headlines would read something to the effect of, “Disney Gets Down to Business with Record-Breaking Mulan.”
But it has not been a normal year. The Covid-19 pandemic forced Disney to rethink its theatrical releases on top of other stresses (like operating theme parks amid the spread of an airborne disease). That’s how Mulan ended up on the streaming service Disney+ for a $30 fee on top of a paid subscription. Disney invented a term for it, too: “Premier Access.”
But will “Premier Access” stick around after Mulan? Is the highly-anticipated Marvel superhero movie Black Widow, due to open in theaters on November 6, also destined for Premier Access? One box office analyst tells Inverse the Hollywood industry is in such uncharted territory, no one can predict what or how studios like Disney will proceed with its biggest (and most expensive) theatrical releases.
“You can’t make a long-term assessment right now,” says Paul Dergarabedian, Senior Media Analyst for Comscore. “Any sweeping pronouncements of the future of the industry right now are, I think, misguided.”
A counter to Dergarabedian’s point would be to cite the windfall Disney saw in releasing Mulan for thirty bucks, in addition to existing paid memberships to Disney+. Certainly, the big profits made from Mulan would guarantee that the new era of theatrical distribution is here — one that bypasses theaters entirely to deliver epic productions straight to consumers in their living rooms. (Or worse/better, their phones.)
Except there is no way of knowing. Unlike box office figures, Disney is keeping all its Disney+ data to itself, and the studio has not disclosed how much Mulan made (or didn’t make). There hasn’t even been PR-friendly touting of Mulan being the “number one movie” on the platform. It is a strange year indeed when there are no TV ads from a studio touting the “number one movie in the world.” For a movie as thunderous as Mulan, the studio’s silence over its “performance” on a streaming platform that has been deafening.
“We at Comscore are looking at this,” Dergarabedian says, citing his company’s ethos to bring “transparency to media and marketing” through data. “But right now it’s a challenge because a lot of streamers choose to opt-out.”