Though Disney has shuffled around theatrical plans for nearly every movie slated for release in 2020 and beyond, “The New Mutants” has curiously stayed put on the weekend of Aug. 28. Many had expected that Disney would continue to postpone it, while others speculated that the film might be exported to Disney Plus or Hulu. But Disney sent exhibitors a lengthy email on Monday outlining theatrical plans, including news that tickets can be sold starting the morning of Aug. 18.
“It’s for sure opening August 28th!” one exhibitor wrote to Variety excitedly.
Theoretically, given the fast-changing nature of the pandemic, it’s still possible that Disney could amend those plans. But for now, “The New Mutants” will be the first new theatrical release from a major studio since the pandemic forced U.S. cinemas to close in March. The news is especially surprising, and not just because Disney has done minimal promotion for “The New Mutants.” Over the last few months, Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic “Tenet” and Disney’s “Mulan” have received the lion’s share of attention, with exhibitors and studios alike hoping those two titles could help reignite cinemas after prolonged shutdowns. Now, “Mulan” is skipping U.S. theaters and premiering on Disney Plus, while “Tenet” is staggering its rollout — starting internationally on Aug. 26 before making its way to select U.S. cities on Sept. 3. Russell Crowe’s thriller “Unhinged,” from newcomer Solstice Studios, will debut in theaters on Aug. 21, the week before “The New Mutants.”
Even before coronavirus caused cinemas to shutter and required studios to postpone major movies, “The New Mutants” endured an especially arduous journey to the big screen. Since it was initially slated to open in 2018 under 20th Century Fox, the film reportedly went through extensive reshoots and its release date has changed five times. In a recent ComicCon at Home panel, the studio cheekily addressed “The New Mutant’s” numerous big-screen delays, even putting an asterisk next in the latest trailer and writing “Fingers crossed” next to the late-August date.
It’s unclear where in the U.S. “The New Mutants” will be able to play. Currently, 1,309 of the 6,021 venues in the country have reopened, according to Comscore. Movie theaters in New York City and Los Angeles — the two biggest moviegoing markets in the States — are still closed without a set date to reopen. There’s been speculation that Disney was contractually obligated to release “The New Mutants” in theaters after inheriting the movie as part of its $71.3 billion merger with Fox, which might explain why the studio opted to forge ahead with this release date while deferring titles including the family adventure “Jungle Cruise” and Marvel’s “Black Widow.”
In any case, the release of “New Mutants” comes at a dire time for movie theater owners. Exhibitors that have started to resume business are finding that ticket sales aren’t flowing as freely as they were before the pandemic. That’s partially because there hasn’t been a new movie to show in theaters in months. Though people might be desperate to get out of the house, they’re less inclined to do so to see “Harry Potter” or “Star Wars” for the umpteenth time.
Studios are continuing to grapple with the fact that there is no telling how willing people will be to go back to the movies — making it riskier to debut tentpoles with massive budgets. Instead, many Hollywood companies have opted to scrap theatrical plans for movies like Paramount’s “SpongeBob: Sponge on the Run,” Universal’s “Trolls World Tour” and Warner Bros. “Scoob,” in favor of having them premiere on digital rental platforms or through streaming services. Though exhibitors realize it’s a necessary move for studios during uncertain times, it’s been a major source of frustration for theater owners, who have been left without anything to entice audiences.
Directed by Josh Boone, “The New Mutants” features an ensemble cast — including Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy and newcomer Blu Hunt — as young mutants trapped in a secret facility against their will. The movie is expected to be the final entry in the “X-Men” franchise, the 13-film series that stretched from 2000’s “X-Men” to 2019’s “Dark Phoenix.” For the most part, the superhero adaptations have enjoyed lucrative ticket sales and even an Oscar nomination (in the case of 2017’s “Logan”). But “Dark Phoenix” — which was originally intended to wrap up the “X-Men” universe before “New Mutants” was pushed into 2020 — bombed and lost the studio over $100 million, indicating that after two decades, the franchise is running on fumes.
However, there’s hope that Kevin Feige, the mastermind behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe, can revive an aging franchise now that the characters have a new home at the Magic Kingdom. That could be a heroic ending everyone can root for.