To be a success, ‘Mulan’ will have to conquer the world
For years, Hollywood has focused on the domestic box office as the heart of a film’s financial life. But as the international market has matured, its grosses have become critical to studios’ profitability. For now at least, thanks to the pandemic, the US role in the equation is diminished even further.
The idea of a blockbuster like “Mulan” opening in theaters overseas but not in the US was inconceivable only a few months ago. The move could be a “transformative” moment for Hollywood, according to Aynne Kokas, an associate professor at the University of Virginia and author of “Hollywood Made In China.”
“The US is the largest box-office market in the world. It likely will not maintain that title this year if the COVID restrictions continue,” Kokas said. “This could be a blip if the US is able to return to its previous situation, or it could be an inflection point.”
“‘Mulan’ was tailor made for Chinese audiences”
Disney finally opted to experiment with a premium video-on-demand option for “Mulan” — charging $29.99 to access the film through Disney+. The studio also announced that the film would be released in markets where theaters are open and the service is not available.
But no matter how well it does on streaming, the studio will also get revenue from markets outside the US, especially in China, where the film is set to open in theaters on September 11.
Notably, China released a genuine blockbuster of its own in August: “The Eight Hundred,” from China’s CMC Pictures. The war epic grossed more than $100 million in the country on its opening weekend and has accumulated more than $300 million in China thus far, per its distributor, while generating modest numbers in Australia, New Zealand and the US.
Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice.com, told CNN Business that it’s unlikely Disney would have released “Mulan” on Disney+ right now “had China’s theatrical market not been open.”
“The math behind this strategy suggests the combination of a premium streaming release combined with theatrical in China and other international markets is the best-case scenario to break even,” he said.
Indeed, “Disney’s ‘Mulan’ was tailor made for Chinese audiences — from casting, to story, to execution,” Jeff Bock, a senior analyst at entertainment research firm Exhibitor Relations, told CNN Business. “It was always meant to be a film that China would embrace, and hopefully, turn into a commercial juggernaut.”
“The scenarios are far and wide-ranging at the moment”
“Mulan” is not the only blockbuster focusing on the international marketplace right now.
“Tenet,” the Christopher Nolan film from Warner Bros. (like CNN, a unit of WarnerMedia), exceeded expectations in its initial release last weekend in 41 territories — including Canada, but not the US — amassing $54 million.
Results from the next few weeks will be watched closely.
“The scenarios are far and wide-ranging at the moment,” Robbins said. “Once we can gauge the long-term domestic and overseas runs of films over the next few months, we’ll have a better idea of what kind of evolution — if there even is a significant one — is taking place in the global market.”