Disney's latest live-action remake Mulan premiered on Disney+ to mixed reviews and a 68% increase in subscribers for the streaming service, so can it be considered a box office success? After postponing Mulan's original March 2020 release in theaters due to the coronavirus pandemic, Disney announced that Mulan would premiere exclusively on their streaming service Disney+ in September. Unlike other Disney+ exclusive releases such as Lady And The Tramp or Artemis Fowl, Mulan would only be available to subscribers who paid $29.99 for premiere access to the film.
Although Mulan has gotten divisive reviews and calls to boycott the film, Disney reported a 68% increase in Disney+ downloads in anticipation of the movie's release. In addition, subscribers spent 193% more on the Disney+ app, largely due to the fee required to watch Mulan. Despite the subscriber increase, Mulan suffered from a lack of a traditional box office release and had a disappointing opening weekend when it premiered in China. In addition, Mulan underperformed in comparison to the other high-profile Disney+ release Hamilton, which saw a 74% increase in Disney+ subscribers ahead of its premiere.
It's difficult to say if Mulan was a box office success for Disney or a failure, like the much maligned live-action remake Dumbo, which premiered in 2019 to a disappointing opening box office of $45 million domestically. Despite the mixed reviews and controversy surrounding the movie, Mulan seems to have been successful for Disney+, although it has one of the most disappointing box offices out of Disney's live-action remakes. While Mulan will likely not make back its $200 million+ budget, the film still did somewhat well on its opening weekend. Compared to Disney's other live-action remakes, Mulan looks like a failure on paper - but was it a success for Disney+?
Mulan's Performance On Disney+
After postponing Mulan's original theatrical release, Disney announced that the film would premiere exclusively on Disney+. Disney+ subscribers had to pay an additional, one-time fee of $29.99 in exchange for premiere access to watch the film, which permanently adds Mulan to their streaming library. Disney+ initially saw a 68% increase in subscriptions, and subscribers spending increased by 193% due to the premiere access fee. Mulan made a total of $35.5 million on its opening weekend from Disney+ subscribers. Since the movie wasn't released in theaters, the $35.5 million is entirely net profit for Disney, who didn't have to pay any distribution fees by hosting it on their streaming service.
Immediately after Mulan was released on Disney+, it became the number one movie on the site and had a 15% viewer share among all titles streamed that weekend across every streaming service. In plain English, that means that 15% of people who watched a new release over Labor Day Weekend were watching Mulan, narrowly edging out the 9.6% who watched the Charlie Kaufman film I'm Thinking Of Ending Things (via IndieWire). Early numbers indicate that Mulan was watched by a total of 1.12 million households on its opening weekend. While Hamilton outperformed Mulan with 2.7 million households on its first weekend, Hamilton didn't require any addition cost to access the musical, making Mulan's performance even more impressive.
Mulan's Box Office Performance
While Disney hoped that Mulan's release in China would make up for the distribution issues in the U.S. market, the film had a disappointing opening weekend and only made $23.2 million at the Chinese box office. Compared to Disney's other live-action remakes, Mulan was a significant failure internationally; Beauty and the Beast made $85 million in its opening weekend in China, followed by Jungle Book with $55 million. Disney made several changes to make Mulan more faithful to the original poem "The Ballad of Mulan" and appeal more to Chinese audiences, but those efforts seem to have been in vain.
Mulan's international failure can be attributed to the disconnect between casting a mostly Chinese cast with an all-white creative team, as well as an out of touch marketing campaign that failed to connect with Chinese audiences. Mulan doesn't have the worst Chinese box office out of Disney's live-action remakes - Dumbo only made $11 million its opening weekend - but it's a spectacular failure considering Disney's aggressive marketing campaign in China. Unlike the U.S. where movie theaters continue to be shutdown, Chinese audiences had a choice between several other movie options including Tenet, which overtook Mulan with a $50 million opening weekend.
Was Mulan A Success For Disney+?
Although Hamilton saw a bigger increase in Disney+ downloads prior to the musical's release, Mulan grossed a much higher profit due to the additional cost required to watch the movie. Mulan was not a success by traditional box office metrics, with the lowest opening box office of any Disney live-action remake, and the film is like not going to make back its $200 million+ budget. It was also a failure overseas, with a disappointing international box office and Mulan's failure to do well in the Chinese market, where Disney was aggressively marketing the film to make up for itsdomestic failures.
Despite that, Mulan was a success for Disney+, significantly increasing the number of subscribers and proving that almost 100,000 people would pay an additional $30 to access the film. While Mulan suffered from calls to boycott the film following Liu Yifei's comments about the Hong Kong protests, alienated Chinese audiences with its all-white production team, and dissuaded American audiences by cutting the songs and characters that made the animated Mulan so beloved, it still managed to bring in $35.5 million from streaming alone. If Mulan had premiered in theaters with the same opening weekend box office, it would have been a massive commercial failure and the lowest-performing live-action Disney remake, tying with Maleficient: Mistress of Evil. Because Mulan premiered only on Disney+, the total gross is a victory and a sign that future releases that premiere on streaming can still be successful.
Mulan was not the first high-profile movie to have its theatrical release moved to Disney+, but it was the first one that required an additional fee. Although Mulan will be available for free in December 2020, it still made the studio $35.5 million in net profits. While the disappointing Chinese box office was another hit to Mulan, its success on Disney+ proved that Disney was right to shift the premiere to the streaming service. Mulan's success could be a disaster for cinemas if more studios will follow suit, foregoing the traditional theatrical distribution model in favor of releasing films exclusively on streaming. While it didn't do as well as the Disney remakes with a proper theatrical release, Disney+ still had a massive success with Mulan.