Earlier today the Walt Disney Company announced that they would delay three major theatrical releases -- The New Mutants, Mulan, and Antlers -- due to concerns that the COVID-19/Coronavirus outbreak will have on the global box office. Disney had already been playing it pretty conservative in China, the epicenter of the outbreak, with Mulan having been delayed there first in spite of the fact that it was a U.S./China co-production that is based on a famous character from Chinese literature. With almost no major motion pictures opening theatrically in the next month, though, it seems like eventually someone is going to break and just release a significant film digitally to see what happens.
That film, in our opinion, should be The New Mutants. The troubled film has undergone cancellations and rescheduling for year now, and with the movie industry in an unprecedented place right now, it has promise as a test balloon for the viability of releasing big-budget blockbusters straight to streaming video on demand platforms.
The former Fox film has been repeatedly delayed, and many fans already assumed that it was going to end up on Hulu rather than getting a big-screen release, which means that if they ultimately get to see the movie, regardless of whether it goes to theaters or not, fans are going to call it a win. There have been several times over the last year or so that fans legitimately did not believe The New Mutants would ever see the light of day.
With a number of high-profile releases already pushing their dates back, the second half of 2020 looks like it's going to be a crowded field at the domestic box office...and it is not especially easy to find a week in 2021 at this point, since that year was already wildly crowded before F9 pushed its date 11 months out. That means that rescheduling expensive movies is going to be a headache, and some of these delayed pictures are going to end up being box office bombs just by virtue of timing and luck.
In the face of a public health crisis where the best advice the medical community has had to offer is to isolate yourself from big groups of people, movie theaters are going to take a hit -- and audiences will likely be restless, sitting at home, wishing they had something new to consume.
"The first new release film that decides to go straight to VOD is going to make a gabillion dollars," New Warriors showrunner Kevin Biegel said on Twitter earlier today. "This country is stressed and worried, and all we want is to curl up in our homes, plunk down our hard earned money, and watch some s--t -- any s--t, even dumb s--t. I'm telling you studios, please -- as silly as it sounds people are looking for SOME kind of joy right now. Watching a movie at home -- especially one that feels special bc it's new -- is a joy we will pay for. I love the theater experience but right now? Shoot. Gimmie."
Genre content in particular -- movies that have built-in audiences either because of the nature of the content or the IP it features -- seem like the safest bets to go straight to VOD, since there are people who will immediately buy or rent it, essentially the moment it becomes available and really regardless of the (reasonable) cost. Movies like Bloodshot, out today, Blumhouse and Universal's The Hunt, or The New Mutants feel like obvious candidates.
So, why single out The New Mutants?
First of all, the film was made under the old 21st Century Fox management. The movie was effectively paid for during the Disney merger, and Disney has seemed relatively uninterested in the movie, seemingly chalking it up as a loss already. That means that expectations for the film are likely lower than, say, Mulan, which has to be a big commercial hit. So, an ambitious release that would attract a lot of attention could bring in some serious opening-weekend money, even if it's through non-traditional means.
The other thing is, it seems evident at this point that Disney doesn't want to build on The New Mutants. It's a Fox franchise full of Marvel characters, and it would have to be a small miracle to get a second installment. Basically, the film would have to be a sleeper blockbuster on the magnitude of Aquaman or Joker, overperforming wildly relative to modest expectations, to get the attention of the Disney brass.
If they don't have any particular interest in keeping the franchise, then, and more or less any money that the movie makes at this point is just gravy, then sending the film to VOD (or the Disney-owned Hulu, where it could generate a ton of views and encourage people to subscribe while they're stuck at home) might be an ideal way to both monetize it and to keep the degree to which it was monetized obfuscated, so that if it does turn out to be a hit, Disney would not feel obligated to seriously entertain making more. They coudl pull in the money without making any kind of meaningful commitment, and without having to cut the exhibitors in for their share.0comments
Obviously there is no guarantee that Disney will be the company to take the leap, but it seems virtually impossible to imagine that given the current state of the entertainment industry we won't see somebody try to experiment with streaming to turn a loss into a profit (or at least to mitigate the loss)...and Disney is uniquely situated to do it since the ambitious launch of Disney+ means that they have been working out the nuts and bolts of their digital/streaming video on demand plan for the last couple of years, and likely have a better guess than just about anybody else how to make it work.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that The New Mutants had undergone reshoots at Fox. Filmmaker Josh Boone has previously denied that any significant reshoots happened. We regret the error.