LOS ANGELES • Disney's muchdelayed blockbuster Mulan will skip the big screen and premiere on streaming platform Disney+ next month, it was announced on Tuesday, as coronavirus keeps theatres shut across much of the United States.
The unprecedented decision - described by chief executive Bob Chapek as a "one-off" for a Disney blockbuster - is the latest major blow for movie theatre chains already reeling from the pandemic.
Mulan, a mega-budget live action remake of the tale of a legendary Chinese warrior starring Liu Yifei, will be available from Sept 4 in homes to Disney+ subscribers for an additional US$29.99 (S$41).
"We see this as an opportunity to bring this incredible film to a broad audience currently unable to go to movie theatres, while also further enhancing the value and attractiveness of a Disney+ subscription," Mr Chapek told an earnings call.
The film will launch simultaneously in theatres in territories such as China, which do not have Disney+ launch plans. The move comes as a second wave of coronavirus cases in the US stalls reopening plans of theatres in key markets such as New York and Los Angeles.
Before the pandemic, studios typically waited 90 days to release major films digitally after their theatrical openings. But several major studio movies, including Trolls World Tour (2020), have grossed tens of millions during the pandemic by abandoning theatrical releases and going directly to streaming - often at premium rental rates.
"We are looking at Mulan as a one-off as opposed to trying to say there is some new business window model we are looking at", said Mr Chapek. But he added that the experiment would provide "very interesting" information on consumers' willingness to shell out US$30 for a new streaming title. If successful, the price would help to "recapture some of that investment" in a "fairly expensive" movie, he said.
Mulan cost an estimated US$200 million to produce. It was originally due for release in March - Disney even held its red-carpet world premiere in Hollywood - before being delayed multiple times.
It was one of a handful of major tentpole Hollywood releases expected to help drive wary consumers back to movie theatres.
Tenet, director Christopher Nolan's sci-fi epic, will release internationally on Aug 26 before hitting a limited number of US screens next month, Warner Bros said last week.