Last week, the news that movie fans expected but dreaded just the same finally came when Warner Bros. announced that Christopher Nolan's Tenet will not open in theaters as planned on July 17th. Instead, the John David Washington-starring film is now set to open in theaters on July 31st while the studio will re-release Nolan's Inception on the 17th for that film's tenth anniversary. All things considered, the delay is a brief one, but it's one that now puts Disney into a difficult position when it comes to the release of the live-action Mulan, a film currently slated to release on July 24.
While one could argue that Tenet and Mulan are very different films that appeal to different audiences and thus question the impact one's release date has on the other, it's not a matter specific audience. Thanks to the impact of COVID-19, it's more a question of general audience and who will be willing and able to go to the movies. With most theaters shuttered since March, Tenet was set to be the film that heralded Hollywood's return, a beacon of light letting people know that "normal" was returning. Serving, in a sense, as a test case, Tenet's successful debut would have potentially given moviegoers a bit of confidence to come out for other films, such as Mulan, the following week.
Instead, Tenet's delay now signals something else, that perhaps we're not quite ready just yet for theaters to come back to life. With Tenet pushed back, Mulan now stands as the film that will herald a return to normalcy, making it the test case, something that Disney may not want on the film's shoulders.
There's also the issue of what theaters will be open by the time July 24th comes around. While California has given movie theaters the go-ahead to reopen as of June 12th, New York is a different tale entirely. The state, which was hard-hit in the pandemic, is reopening under a four-phase plan. New York City began phase one on June 8, but it will be quite some time before movie theaters are able to open. Movie theaters are part of phase four and it's not likely that New York City will reach phase four in time for Mulan to hit theaters which means there will be fewer screens for Mulan to play on.
On the flip side, however, is the fact that Disney World's parks will be open by July 15th (Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom are expected to reopen on July 11th with Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios opening on July 15th) while Disneyland is set to reopen on July 17th. With the parks being open, Disney may want to consider going forward with Mulan's release on July 24th in part to reaffirm the slow return to business as usual for the House of Mouse.
With all of the variables at play, Disney is in an unenviable position of having to determine whether to stay the course and open Mulan on July 24th, or delay the film -- which was originally supposed to have debuted on March 27th -- again, a move which could push it further into the fall or even into 2021 depending on available dates and just how much shuffling Disney wants to do with it schedule. Of course, there's always the possibility that the decision will end up being easier made than expected. As cities and states reopen, there has been a spike in new cases and hospitalizations related to COVID-19, prompting concerns that a second outbreak of the virus is imminent, something that could bring an abrupt halt to attempts to return to normal once again.
Mulan is currently set to open in theaters on July 24th. Tenet is currently slated to open on July 31st.