On Tuesday, Disney announced the fairly shocking decision to premiere its live-action Mulan remake as a home rental. After months of attempting to outrun the pandemic with persistent delays, the film will be available to stream on Disney+ starting September 4 — for an additional cost of $29.99 to subscribers.
That’s an eye-popping figure for a number of reasons. Equivalent to the list price of a brand new Blu-ray — that is, the absolute most you’d ever pay for a new film on home video outside of the Criterion Collection — this is pushing blockbuster rentals into a price typically reserved for premium sporting events. If you’re a family, with I don’t know, two or three kids, it might be an easy decision. Contrasted with the cost of going to the movies in some major cities, factoring in ticket price, concessions, and whatever transportation costs, it’s likely a discount. But you’re still watching it on a damn TV!
Disney has indicated that Marvel’s Black Widow could be next in line for a home release, which could pose a substantial loss for the company, but also serve as a trial balloon for how they might survive if movie theaters don’t. Universal’s armistice with AMC last month indicated a willingness to accept a very different landscape once movie theaters reopen. After a summer that’s seen films like The King of Staten Island, Capone, The High Note, Trolls: World Tour, Scoob, and more debut at home to anywhere from $15-20, you kind of get the sense for what sort of movie would go to home rental. The mid-budget, potential theatrical flop or modest hit can perhaps eke it out, paired with drive-in tallies.
In theory, I get the heightened price tag for Mulan. This needs to make more money than something like a Judd Apatow movie or First Cow, but also...how is this going to work out, exactly? Once expected to clear the $1 billion mark globally, a VOD release for Mulan will undoubtedly fall short of projected theatrical grosses. Why wouldn’t they just delay the thing to an already crowded 2021 schedule when it might be able to command a staggered international debut? What looks like a concession of epic proportions might be something far simpler: the company sees Disney+ as more crucial to its future than theatrical exhibition.
But the home video rental essentially does nothing to reward early viewing, when a little bit more patience (paired with marginal fear of missing out,) will just allow them to bring the price down in a few months when it gets a proper home video release. If the option were available say 10 years ago, when home streaming was more of a novelty and there weren’t thousands of films on thousands of streaming services right at the touch of a remote, it might have been an easier sell. I’d maybe cap myself at $20 for something truly anticipated, like if the next Safdie brothers or Mission: Impossible movie were released under these conditions, but can’t imagine shelling out the $30. And in a year when everything has been delayed or canceled, what’s a few months more for an 80 percent price reduction?
This makes it a little harder to buy into the resounding death of movie theaters. Being home all this time hasn’t made me any more receptive to watching movies there — it still kind of sucks, the volume regulates far too much between dialogue and score, and my screen is about 1/200th the size of what you could get in the before times. I just miss the big screen and over air-conditioned spaces! They’ll almost definitely take a different shape in the next few years, and I have no idea which chains and indies will endure, but it seems premature to count out theaters altogether at this point.