In significant news that could eventually be looked upon as an industry-changing move, Disney has decided to release their live-action Mulan simultaneously in select cinemas and on Disney+ in September.
The film will not be automatically available to Disney+ subscribers at that time, and will instead be offered as part of a new Premium Tier that will cost an extra $29.99 as a one-time fee, on top of a subscription. The Disney+ release will only take part in the United States and Canada. Everywhere else, it will be released theatrically only.
Obviously, this has come about due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. is lagging behind much of the rest of the world in terms of improving their number of coronavirus cases, and this decision is in the same vein as Warner Bros.’ decision to release Tenet internationally, where it’s safer, and only in select American cities.
However, bigger picture, this Disney decision could have huge ramifications. Cinemas have long been in a battle with VOD services and home releases in general, usually about how long their “theatrical window” should be in order to remain sustainable. And huge Disney films have obviously been very profitable for cinemas because they’re big events that huge swaths of people come out to see.
Obviously with Mulan being released on Disney+ at the same time, that window is obliterated. Disney is saying this is a one-time move due to the circumstances – an “anomaly” according to Disney CEO Bob Chapek – but if they see a massive influx of Disney+ subscriptions, it’s possible they’d consider doing this again. If that’s the case, it’s terrible news for cinemas.
This shift may not happen at all, or if it does, it may not happen quickly. But it is possible that the release of Mulan sets a precedent that Disney, and potentially other studios, will try and replicate.
It could be pointed to as a significant shift in release strategy for even the biggest of films, the ones that felt safe from a potential day-and-date theatrical and on-demand release. That would be the beginning of the end for cinemas as they currently exist. Hopefully that’s not the case.
Mulan was originally scheduled to be released way back in March and had even had a few press screenings, but then the pandemic hit. It was shifted to a July release but then delayed again. The film will now hit Disney+ and select cinemas Friday, September 4th.