For several months there, all the major studios were looking to see what Disney and Christopher Nolan (with Warner Bros.) were going to do next. After the current pandemic swept the slate of upcoming cinema releases clean, 'Mulan' and 'Tenet' were (respectively) the only movies holding out for a cinematic release in July. 'Tenet', after a couple of more postponements, will now hit theatres in late August-early September. 'Mulan' is bound for the streaming service Disney+ (or Disney Plus).
Now the question is, will 'Black Widow', also owned by Disney via Marvel, share the same fate?
A few things to note here include the fact that 'Mulan' isn't the first movie that was originally intended for cinematic release to go to Disney+ instead.
The studio previously released 'Artemis Fowl' on the service in June.
Now with talks that the movie suffered development hell and that its release date was shifted by a year from August 9, 2019 to May 29, 2020, things didn't look good.
And they weren't. In spite of being helmed by Kenneth Branagh and starring some terrific up-and-coming young Irish talent, the movie was a mess and it got critically panned.
Then there was 'Hamilton'. The filming of the Broadway musical was originally planned for theatrical release on October 15, 2021.
According to the producers, they wanted to launch the movie over a year early on Disney+ (the new date being July 3, 2020) to offer consolation in difficult times and to serve as a tribute to the performing arts with theatre unlikely to open again until 2021.
One could also by cynical and note that the timing of the release was also in tandem with the free trial period of Disney+ expiring. But we'll just leave that point there.
In any case, 'Hamilton' was a major success for Disney+. Downloads of the Disney+ app rose up to hundreds of thousands, reported Variety.
But could the same success be repeated off the back of 'Mulan'? After all, which it doesn't have its fan base in a Broadway musical, many are eager to see the remake of the 1998 animated classic.
Well, the major difference between 'Hamilton' and 'Mulan' is the former was included as part of the monthly Disney+ subscription. Thus for your €6.99 you could see this Tony-award winning show from the comfort of your couch.
For 'Mulan', on top of your monthly subscription, customers will be required to pay a $29.99 premium cost to see it. Now that's hefty.
It's not the first pricey VOD release that offers "cinema in your home." The likes of 'Emma', 'The Invisible Man', 'The King of Staten Island' and 'Trolls World Tour' cost up to $19.99 to rent. But 'Mulan' costs a considerable $10 more.
Now arguably, for a family household, that could work out as cheaper than a trip to the cinema. But for solo subscribers, that’s a hefty price to pay for a movie you're likely watching off a laptop screen.
Thus whether people will actually be willing to pay such a fee is up for debate. So far many have turned online to assert that they wouldn't pay that amount.
There's also the matter that Disney have said they'll release 'Mulan' in theatres where Disney+ is unavailable. If there's a demand for it, and if they observe that the cinematic release of 'Tenet' is successful, will the studio opt to release it in cinemas as well as on their streaming service?
While Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek has noted the move does not mark a new business model for the House of Mouse, it's clearly testing the waters. And the movie it's probably looking to next is 'Black Widow'. (It won't be 'New Mutants', I'm afraid to say, which is meant to hit theatres late August. One wouldn't be shocked if it emerges shortly that the movie is going online...)
The Marvel movie following Scarlett Johansson's titular assassin currently has an Irish release date of October 30th, having been postponed from March.
Aside from 'Spider-Man: Far From Home', it's the first MCU release since 'Avengers: Endgame'.
The latter ended up being the highest grossing movie of all time - but we know that Marvel means big bucks. Moreover those movies need the box office receipts, given the big budgets they're recuperating.
Surely Disney has no choice but to push 'Black Widow', which has a devoted following, to the big screen, right?
The truth is we can't know for sure what moves Disney+ will make until we see how 'Tenet' and 'Mulan' pan out.
The former will demonstrate whether patrons are ready to return to the cinema for major movie releases.
The latter will demonstrate whether customers are willing to fork out to watch major releases from home.
A lot can happen between now and November. But undoubtedly the future of cinema will rely on cooperation with VOD platforms. So don't be surprised if the release of 'Black Widow' ends up being a compromise between the two.