Disney's Mulan Has Slow Start At China Box Office

With the novel coronavirus pandemic still a factor and a North American digital release on Disney+, Mulan is struggling at the Chinese box office -- a market Disney had hoped would help bolster the movie's commercial hopes, given its basis in Chinese folklore. The movie, which was supposed to get a massive, global theatrical release, was delayed several times before finally dropping at whatever theaters happen to be open, and on Disney+. Along the way, star Yifei Liu drew criticism for a social media post in support of Hong Kong police, timed as they were clashing with protesters in Hong Kong.

It has been a perfect, frustrating storm for Disney, who also prompted some calls to boycott the film themselves when various Chinese Communist party and state groups were thanked in the credits. All of this outcry against the film and its ties to the government led to a media blackout by the Chinese government, outlawing negative coverage of Disney's Chinese rollout but effectively silencing most coverage of the launch altogether, likely hurting word of mouth.

While Disney was right to believe that China is likely to be the largest theatrical market for Mulan, it is still tracking to make less than $50 million during its time in theaters. It's expected that the movie will top out at around $43 million, meaning that it's unlikely to surpass what Tenet makes since that film, now in third place behind Mulan and a Chinese original, has already racked up $42.2 million. At present, Mulan is clealry dominating the Chinese box office, with a $6 million opening that represents about 45% of the total theatrical haul in its first night, according to Maoyan, a Chinese ticket agency.

In recent years, the growing Chinese theatrical market has become a huge consideration for American blockbusters, many of which have teamed with Chinese financiers to mitigate ballooning budgets. With Chinese money, often, comes rules about what you can do in the film and the expectation that studios will edit the content to appeal to Chinese authorities and sensibilities. Some movies, like Iron Man 3 and The Meg, had radically different cuts for China, playing up supporting characters of Chinese ethnicity (via Variety).

According to the Reuters news agency, various sources say that the Cyberspace Administration of China had contacted media outlets, asking them not to cover the film.

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The movie, an adaptation of the classic Chinese poem by way of the 1998 Disney animated movie based on it, was filmed primarily in New Zealand, but also shot partially in Xinjiang -- leading to Disney's hand-in-glove relationship with Chinese authorities.

North American critics have given the film solid, but not extraordinary, reviews, with a lot of the criticism falling on a weak script that was elevated by solid direction and performances.