But though many of those companies are hungry for product to propel streaming ventures, economic considerations suggest that these new movies — or at least most of them — won’t be it. Because these blockbusters — especially a period piece like “Mulan” — don’t have an expiration date, there’s no reason to rush them to market.
While there could be some opportunity for mid-sized films to migrate to streaming, showcasing a potential smash like that live-action adaptation of the animated hit on Disney+ could be leaving a whole lot of money on the table.
“A movie like ‘Mulan’ has a big budget, and it’s been marketed already as a theatrical film. It’s not so easy to just put it on Disney+,” Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice.com, told CNN Business. “A major release like that costs Disney hundreds of millions of dollars and the financial lifespan of a production of that size needs to have some sort of theatrical release to make its money back.”
That’s in part because the major studios still want to wring profits out of their movies across multiple exhibition platforms — including the overseas and domestic box office — before getting another bite at the apple, as Snow White might say, by using them to stock their streaming shelves.
One exception to the theatrical-release-first rule could be a movie like “The New Mutants,” a spinoff of the X-Men franchise that Disney inherited when it acquired 20th Century Fox’s entertainment assets. Seen as a troubled project which had been delayed multiple times before being pushed once again on Thursday, the movie was already talked about as a possible streaming play.
Again, that might be a case where the benefit is relatively high — offering a subscription lure to a particular group of fans — and the risk low, given the film’s uncertain box-office potential.
Sliding release dates for movies, especially if the crisis drags on, could create a logjam. But because movies are ordered far in advance, studios could potentially cut back on production, using the held-back inventory to flesh out their schedules. Disney announced on Friday that it is pausing production on some of its live-action films for a short time. That includes “The Little Mermaid” remake and Marvel Studios’ “Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings,” among others.
At this point, though, there are plenty of unknowns.
“You move one movie, then that potentially impacts five others. It’s a domino effect,” said Robbins of Boxoffice.com. “The box office has never really had to deal with something as widespread as the coronavirus before. There’s no timetable to when things get back to normal, and there’s just so many questions left to answer.”