Disney’s live-action Mulan movie was originally planned for theatrical release in March but has been delayed multiple times during the coronavirus pandemic.
Disney will release its live-action film Mulan online through its Disney Plus service on Sept. 4, but it won’t be included as part of a standard subscription. Mulan will cost $30 in the US in addition to Disney Plus’ regular subscription fee, and it will be priced at roughly the same amount in international markets where it’ll be available online too, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand and a number of countries in Western Europe.
Don’t get your hopes up yet that other mega-budget films — like Marvel’s Black Widow with a theatrical release date set for Nov. 6 — necessarily will follow the same quick path onto your living-room TV. The company characterized Mulan’s release as a onetime deal, though it could serve as an experiment that guides its future release decisions.
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“Mulan is a one-off,” Disney CEO Bob Chapek said Tuesday during a call that discussed the company’s fiscal third-quarter results. “That said, we find it very interesting to be able to … learn from it and see what happens, not only in terms of the uptake of the number of subscribers that we get on the platform but the actual number of transactions on the Disney Plus platform that we get.”
Mulan, which was supposed to open in theaters in March but had to delay the release date multiple times because of the coronavirus, will be available be available as what’s known as premium video on demand, which usually means a high-priced rental. But it will be offered exclusively through the company’s Disney Plus streaming service, seemingly holding out from other popular stores for online rentals like Apple’s TV app, Amazon Video and others.
The company will also release Mulan theatrically on Sept. 4 in markets where cinemas are open and where Disney Plus isn’t operating yet.
“We see this as an opportunity to bring this incredible film to a broad audience currently unable to go to movie theaters, while also further enhancing the value and attractiveness of the Disney Plus subscription with great content,” Chapek said.
The decision marks an unprecedented approach to releasing a big-budget movie that had been destined to be a blockbuster back when theaters were open worldwide. The coronavirus pandemic has shuttered cinemas around the globe and forced studios across the board to delay big-budget films for months and years, with no certainty in sight for when theaters can reopen at large or when audiences will feel comfortable sitting in windowless, enclosed rooms for hours.
It’s also a major defection from the rigid rules that usually keep new movies only in theaters for 75 days or more, as well as a surprising change to how Disney Plus has been pitched to audiences since it launched in November. Disney Plus is Disney’s online hub for streaming almost everything the company produces, but it was marketed as an all-you-can-eat buffet like Netflix, where your subscription unlocks everything on the platform to watch. Mulan will bring an a la carte transaction to Disney Plus that its 60 million subscribers haven’t yet encountered.
Disney’s changes underscore how disruptive the pandemic has been to Hollywood studios’ meticulously planned release cycles. With theaters closed and coronavirus preventive measures keeping people stuck at home, studios have mostly decided to keep pushing back the theatrical release dates for mega-budget pictures. But with their tentpole movies in a holding pattern, studios could be setting themselves up to all release a glut of movies on top of each other, crimping ticket sales.
Already, smaller-budget films began to go straight to online rentals or streaming services, such as Disney’s decision to release its Hamilton film and its young-adult sci-fi movie Artemis Fowl on Disney Plus rather than in theaters. And Universal has released new movies like DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls World Tour and others as special online rentals.
But Universal’s Trolls World Tour online release enraged cinemas, with US chain AMC even vowing it would ban Universal movies from its screens, including its blockbuster Fast & Furious franchise. Cinemas have doggedly clung to rules that keep new movies only in theaters for months, even as audiences have grown more accustomed to watching video when they want, where they want. Then last month Universal struck a deal with AMC to patch things up, promising to give theaters three weekends of exclusivity for new movies going forward in exchange for lifting the ban on its movies, a signal that cinemas are willing to compromise.
Disney, however, has been one of the Hollywood studios most dedicated to theatrical release. It’s decision to put out Mulan online reinforces the prospect that these alternative release strategies devised in the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic may have lasting effects even after cinemas start reopening at large.
Disney Plus’ standard subscriptions costs $7 a month, or $70 a year, in the US. In Canada, Disney Plus is priced at C$9 a month, or C$90 per year.
In countries that are part of the euro zone, it is 7 euros, or 70 euros a year. In the UK, it is £6 a month, or £60 a year. In Australia, it’s priced at AU$9 a month, or AU$90 per year, while New Zealand subscribers pay NZ$10 per month, or NZ$100 per year. In India, Disney Plus Hotstar is priced at 299 Indian rupees a month, or 999 rupees a year. In Japan, Disney Plus is 700 yen a month through an exclusive partnership with Japanese telecom company NTT Docomo.
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