Disney on Thursday gave a worrisome update on its movie business — the largest in Hollywood, by far, and still mostly shut down because of the pandemic — by delaying the theatrical release of its live-action “Mulan” indefinitely and pushing back three upcoming “Star Wars” movies and four scheduled “Avatar” sequels by one year each.
The next “Star Wars” movie will not arrive until 2023, making for a far less promising 2022 for Disney’s movie and consumer products divisions. “Mulan” was supposed to arrive in theaters on Aug. 21 after being pushed back several times already.
“It’s become clear that nothing can be set in stone when it comes to how we release films during this global health crisis,” Disney said in a statement.
In a similar move, Warner Bros. on Monday indefinitely delayed Christopher Nolan’s big-budget “Tenet,” which had been scheduled to arrive in theaters on Aug. 12.
Some upcoming Disney movies are being delayed because the coronavirus has halted movie production across Hollywood. But the “Mulan” postponement reflects the economics of blockbuster-style films and the inability of theaters in some crucial markets — New York, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area — to reopen without government approval, the timing of which is impossible to predict. To release “Mulan” on Aug. 21, Disney would need to start its advertising barrage now. But no company wants to spend a minimum of $150 million to market a movie worldwide if it can’t be sure that the advertised product will be available.
Similarly, because these movies cost roughly $200 million just to produce, the only way to make them financially viable is to make them available everywhere all at once, thwarting piracy as much as possible. New York, Los Angeles and the Bay Area are the country’s three biggest markets for ticket sales; it would be a financial calamity to release a “tent pole” movie with even one of those areas offline.
Disney’s next megamovie will now not arrive until at least November, when “Black Widow” is set to roll into theaters.
AMC Theatres, the nation’s largest cinema chain, said Wednesday it was delaying the opening of its more than 1,000 theaters in the United States until mid-to-late August.
Without its movie division to generate revenue, Disney’s theme parks have become even more important to the conglomerate. Disney reopened Walt Disney World in Florida earlier this month. It has been accused of irresponsibility from people concerned about visitor and worker health, but Disney has developed what it believes are safe operating procedures. And it gets to tell investors on its Aug. 4 earnings call that at least something came back online in the quarter.