Marvel Releasing New Mutants in Theaters Is a Mistake

At this point, it's almost impossible to imagine The New Mutants will not be a box office [...]

At this point, it's almost impossible to imagine The New Mutants will not be a box office disaster, but Disney and Marvel appear committed to giving he Josh Boone-directed superhero horror movie a chance on the big screen. There are arguments for it -- for example, it's a movie that Disney probably already assumes is going to fail, so making it one of the first blockbuster tentpoles to hit theaters following the novel coronavirus pandemic that brought Hollywood to a standstill gives them the opportunity to work the kinks out with relatively little risk. Ultimately, though, it feels like a bad idea at this point.

Originally slated for an April 2018 release, the movie got moved four times before the coronavirus pandemic, and then pulled from the schedule altogether before finally landing on its current, planned date of August 28. If it hits that date, it will be one of the first major movies to be released after cinemas reopen in earnest (as of this writing, the plan is that Tenet will kick off the summer movie season in July).

Even that launch date is a variable at this point, since major markets like Los Angeles and New York are places that were hit with thousands of COVID-19 deaths, and the 1-2 punch of Memorial Day celebrations and the protests circling the globe have put a lot of strangers in close contact with one another, likely setting the U.S. up for another rough few weeks. Theaters and studios are playing the pandemic pretty conservatively, because an industry already in trouble and lacking in new content to release in the coming months, can scarcely afford mostly-empty theaters or movies that wildly underperform because they tried to get things started too soon.

The New Mutants is likely a movie that's in place in August to test out the market. It seems Disney thinks the movie has a pretty high floor and a low ceiling, so it won't be a huge disappointment or too much of a pleasant surprise.

But a movie like Trolls World Tour proved that you can still have a big opening and a surprisingly huge "box office" by releasing to digital, if you do it right. Given how crowded 2021 already was, it's likely that a lot of movies are going to end up hitting some version of the premium rentals that Universal did for Trolls, The Hunt, and The Invisible Man -- or early sales like Warner did for Birds of Prey and Sony did for Bloodshot.

With big money at least theoretically on the table for home releases taht roll out properly, it once again seems like the big reason Disney is intent on putting New Mutants in theaters is because it doesn't have any faith in the project, which started under Fox before Disney bought that company. Somebody is going to have to be the sacrificial "first big Disney movie" out of the gate post-COVID, but The New Mutants feels lke the wrong choice, made for the wrong reasons.