Disney’s bold move with ‘Mulan’ could fundamentally change film distribution


Living through a pandemic has changed the rules with just about everything and for just about everybody.

Even a company with the clout and power of Disney is working by the coronavirus’ rules instead of its own. That was never more clear than on Wednesday when Disney’s new CEO Bob Chapek said the conglomerate had a 42% overall loss from this point last year and that the theme parks have suffered a $3.5 billion loss alone during the pandemic.

With it remaining uncertain when movie theaters will actually open up again and maybe even more uncertain when patrons will feel safe returning to theaters, Capek stunned everyone who follows entertainment news closely by announcing on the same earning call that Disney will bypass theater distribution totally on what was to be its springtime tent pole “Mulan” and debut the $200 million dollar movie on its Disney + streaming platform on Sept. 4, in regions of the world where Disney + is available, i.e. the United States and Canada among others.

Capek called this a “one-off proposition,” but that’s hard to believe when studios have been whispering about testing day-and-date distribution with video-on-demand outlets and theaters for years.

The only reason studios haven’t already been so bold is that theater distribution is a proven method of making millions if not billions of dollars for studios, where VOD is not that lucrative.

A film like “Mulan” was expected to rake in $750 million to possibly a $1 billion or more with a theatrical release under normal conditions. Disney wouldn’t keep all of that. There would be more of a 55/45 split with theaters.

The reason why this move seemed impossible is that a film like “Mulan” with a $200 million production budget and a $100 million marketing budget would need to make in the neighbored of $300 million just to break even. It might be challenging for “Mulan” to break even in a situation that not only requires a monthly subscription to Disney + but also comes with a $30 price tag on top.

That’s why Capek called it a “one-off” proposition.

However, these aren’t normal times, and no one knows for sure when things will return to normal if they ever do. The idea is it’s better for Disney to try to break even or turn some profit on “Mulan” now than to sit on the movie that has already had multiple release-date changes and hope things normalize sooner rather than later.

That said, what if the release does better than break even? What if it makes say $500 or even $600 million that Disney does not have to split with theaters?

If that happens, things will get interesting. Expect every studio that owns a streaming platform to add a premium layer to its paywall in an attempt to find similar success at least during the pandemic and possibly going forward.

Would this be the end of movie theaters or at least the window when film distribution is closed to VOD like the current 30-day window that’s been in place for several years?

I doubt theatrical distribution would totally evaporate into the ether. The studios like making money in the theaters and then turning around and making money on VOD and even physical media, although DVD/Blu-ray profits have diminished greatly since its hey day. I think most studio heads are smart enough not to cut their nose off to spite their face.

However, if Disney’s gambit with “Mulan” is a success or even greater, this could be a sea change for the film industry. The only innovation greater would be Thomas Edison’s invention of the motion-picture camera. Even adding sound and color wouldn’t be as great as fundamentally changing how the movies are disseminated to their customers.

Force of Nature (Amazon Prime)

EFO Films

Make no mistake, director Michale Polish’s “Force of Nature” would be a VOD release even if theaters weren’t still shuttered because of the coronavirus. It’s purely a B-movie project from the get go, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not entertaining.

If this movie were made in the 1950s or 1960s it would take place on an Old West border town being struck by a sandstorm, but today’s shoot-em-up movies are more cops-and-robbers than lawmen-and-bandit affairs.

“Force of Nature” is set in a six-story building in Puerto Rico that’s being evacuated by the police, one an American expatriate, just prior to a Category 4 and possibly strengthening to a Category 5 hurricane that’s about to blast the island.

The lone holdouts in the building are a man that owns a tiger locked away in his apartment, an elderly German gentleman who may or may not be holding artistic treasures the Nazis stole in World War II, and a cantankerous former cop named Ray (Mel Gibson), who is on dialysis, but won’t listen to his daughter Troy (Kate Bosworth) and seek shelter.

Suicidal police officer Cardillo (Emile Hirsch) and his new partner Jess (Stephanie Cayo) have the dubious task of attempting to move each of them to safety during the early potion of the hurricane when the building comes under attack by notorious bank robber “John The Baptist” (David Zayas) and a half dozen of his thugs, who are armed like an ill-intentioned S.W.A.T. team. They are after whatever the old German guy is holding.

The plot is straight out of the 1980s, and so is the action, which entertained me more than I thought possible when deciding to hit the rent button or not.

What sold me was the cast. Hirsch can be excellent. Likewise for Gibson, and Bosworth is solid. They mostly lived up to that billing — except for Hirsch who mailed in this one — during the movie that goes slightly against the grain of expectations, but not too far.

I also enjoyed watching Zayas, who played Angel on “Dexter,” chew up scenery as a really bad dude, but one with a little more charisma than one would expect in a B-type production.

The movie will remind you a smidge of “Die Hard,” although it’s never that witty or thrilling and is a good bit bloodier.

What can I say, I enjoyed the movie for the cheap thrills it offered, though I began watching with little to no expectations.

(Mature) 1 hr. 31 min.
Grade: C+

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