Disney charges $30 to stream new ‘Mulan.’ What does it mean for future big-budget releases?

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Ron Yuan, Niki Caro, Lui Yifei, Jason Scott Lee and Yoson An attend the European premiere of Disney's Mulan, held in Leicester Square, London. Photo by Ian West/Reuters Marketplace - Press Association - Pictures.

Disney says it’ll charge people $29.99 to stream its live-action remake of “Mulan” on Disney+. The film will premiere early next month on the streaming service, forgoing a theatrical release. It’s a big reversal for Disney because “Mulan” was supposed to help launch the summer blockbuster season. It was postponed multiple times because of COVID-19. 

Rebecca Rubin, news editor for Variety, says this is a way for Disney to make money when their theme parks aren’t generating the same revenue as before the pandemic, their cruise lines are closed, and box offices are closed. 

Rubin says Disney spent millions upon millions of dollars to market “Mulan” globally, and the film had the potential to make $1 billion in theaters. “It is shocking in the sense that it's probably the most expensive movie, meaning Disney put in well over $200 million into making this movie, to skip theaters and go straight to streaming.” 

Since Disney is charging $29.99 to stream this film, how many of those sales will be needed to break even, or even make money, on “Mulan?” 

Rubin says that remains to be seen. “Even at price point, they're going to play around with that. They're going to see just how willing people are. Because if you're taking a family of four to see this movie in theaters, more likely than not, you're spending more than $30. And so some people might view this as a bargain at a time when they're at home. Other people will say, ‘No, I'm not paying that.’”

Paying some $30 for one new movie certainly sounds expensive when Netflix allows people to watch as much as they want for $8.99/mo. 

However, Rubin says, “Because this is a new movie, I think they're hoping some people … families who are into their fifth month of quarantine … they're just desperate for their young kids to have something new to watch. Maybe they watched ‘Frozen’ and ‘Toy Story’ a million times, and they're willing to spend that $30 to not hear ‘Let It Go’ for the one millionth time.” 

Meanwhile, she says theaters are devastated. “It's very frustrating because they don't have a lot of say or a lot of pull. Their power has been diminished by the pandemic simply because studios need to continue making money, and they are making decisions that are best for them in this instance.”

She notes that Disney is one of the most supportive of the theatrical business because their movies make so much money in theaters. She points out that last year, “Avengers: Endgame” made more than $2 billion in theaters, and “The Lion King” made more than $1 billion.

She says that Disney’s new CEO, Bob Chapek, announced during an earnings call on Tuesday that Mulan going straight to a streaming service is a one-off right now, and it’s not a sign of a new business plan. 

“Whether that's true remains to be seen. But to me, that comment was a little bit of an olive branch. It was saying, ‘Hey, we didn't forget about you. But you know what? For us right now, we need to lure subscribers, and we need to be making money, and this is the best way for us to do it.’”

— Written by Amy Ta, produced by Angie Perrin