Does Moving ‘Mulan’ (Again) Make Sense for Disney?

Does Moving 'Mulan' (Again) Make Sense
Cheyne Gateley/VIP

After a wave of calendar changes last Friday spanning Disney, Sony, and Paramount, the 2021 theatrical slate is now bloated with tentpole releases as studios continue to resolve films delayed by cinema closures and halted production. Despite widespread hesitance to reopen cinemas amid the pandemic, some summer releases remain scheduled for 2020.

While Disney’s live-action “Mulan” remake was rescheduled from its original March launch to July 24–one of several blockbusters still sitting on the schedule alongside Warner’s “Tenet” on July 17 and “Wonder Woman 1984” on August 14–the odds are it will be bumped again amid uncertainty as to when theaters will reopen. To come anywhere near matching a record-shattering 2019 thanks to Marvel, Lucasfilm and other live-action remakes, boosting potential gross for any upcoming film is crucial for the studio.

With an original March 27 release, “Mulan” would have likely continued the month’s tradition of profitable family-oriented titles, but a March release in 2021 is unlikely now that “Raya and the Last Dragon,” originally slated for November 20, is scheduled for the 12th.

Disney will want at least two weeks for the animated Awkwafina starrer to sell tickets, and anything released at the end of the month has just one week to make the bulk of its money thanks to the ninth “Fast & Furious” film getting rescheduled for April 2.

July 2021 briefly presented a solution by way of the 9th after a planned “Indiana Jones” sequel was moved to 2022, but Disney has since slated an untitled event film there, demonstrating that “Mulan” might no longer be a priority title for the studio. The only wiggle room left is December 2020.

December 4 is currently vacant of major studio films, but that’s partly because the first weekend in December always follows a mix of Thanksgiving tentpoles, such as this year’s 007 film “No Time to Die” and new Pixar title “Soul,” both of which are COVID postponements. Studios typically elect to insert awards-season hopefuls here instead, since December’s hall-of-fame grossers usually release closer to Christmas, where another potential opportunity for “Mulan” lies.

Scheduled for the holiday, 20th Century’s “The Last Duel” from director Ridley Scott had its production delayed by the pandemic, and Sony’s WWII drama  “The Nightingale” starring the Fanning sisters was just removed from the 25th because of the same issue. “Duel” will not make its release, so that slot is available for “Mulan” once Disney takes it off the calendar.

But there’s a catch: “The Last Duel’s” release on the 25th is currently limited, with a wide date set for early January. In addition, late December is already crowded, and “Top Gun: Maverick” could bury “Mulan” under Tom Cruise’s unrelenting star power. “West Side Story” from 20th Century is also booked for the weekend that previously went to every “Star Wars” film last decade. 

Disney wouldn’t want “Mulan” to hamper a 20th title from doing well for once after absorbing the studio. Besides, when Disney released “Mary Poppins Returns” around this time in 2018, it was significantly outgrossed by “Aquaman,” failing to break $200 million domestically and pulling in less than $400 globally (per Box Office Mojo). Disney IP may be strong, but the success of “Star Wars” can’t be replicated so easily.

December 4 is then the only realistic date for “Mulan,” should Disney get cold feet about its summer release. Given that Paramount already opted to remove its nondescript horror-thriller “Spell” from a weak August 28 date, it won’t be long before final decisions regarding big films like “Mulan” are made.

VIP will continue to examine the remaining summer releases and beyond as COVID-19 rattles the industry further.