How Coronavirus is Playing Havoc at the Movies | 'Mulan', Marvel and 'New Mutants'
It's obvious that the human consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic are unsettling and unkind. With countries around the world shutting down their borders, closing down their schools and ceasing public gatherings, people everywhere are beginning to question the health and safety of their everyday routines. One of the biggest sectors to take a hit as a result of coronavirus-fear is the movie industry, both on a micro and macro level. In a cruel twist of fate, it's not just the huge movie studios like Disney that are under duress; small and independent cinema chains are almost certainly going to suffer.
Let's start with the House of Mouse, for their monopoly over Hollywood means they are the studio with the biggest list of problems. It was announced yesterday that three of Disney's major motion pictures were to be postponed until further notice; the highly anticipated remake of Mulan and the final film in Fox's X-Men saga (The New Mutants) both being among them. This is a particularly devastating blow for The New Mutants, a film which released its first trailer in 2017 and has since been delayed more times than I can remember. Mulan, too, finds itself in the precarious position of having already ran its full ad-campaign.
The millions of dollars spent on Mulan trailers and billboards now prove wasted, meaning that when Disney does eventually decide to release the film it must invest even more money in its promotion - heightening the stakes for its box office performance. The film is also, obviously, geared towards a Chinese audience (China being a box-office superpower), and with much of the mainland still under quarantine Disney has no choice but to delay the film's release.
Disney isn't the only studio to postpone releases, though; Fast and Furious 9, Peter Rabbit 2, James Bond: No Time to Die and John Krasinski's A Quiet Place: Part II have all been removed from the release schedule. 'Bond 25' (as some dub No Time to Die) is a particularly interesting case. MGM, the studio behind the Bond franchise, is one of Hollywood's least financially-secure, meaning that if Daniel Craig's latest outing doesn't make enough money at the box office the entire studio may 'go under'. It's crucial for MGM's survival that the film makes big bucks around the world, so despite its expensive ad-campaign the movie must also be delayed last-minute.
All of these delays obviously affect the movie studios, but the cinemas will also take a hit. With less films to offer potential customers, and less customers on account of health-fears, the global, movie-going audience will only get smaller going forward. These effects can already be felt in the revenue of films out at the moment. Disney Pixar's Onward, which released last week, has inspired the studio's weakest opening of all time (adjusting for inflation), despite its critical acclaim.
This will all prove particularly tough for smaller (or independent) cinema chains, chains like the UK's Everyman, Picturehouse and Curzon. These chains, which tend to prioritize independent film, require the attendance inspired by blockbusters to stay financially afloat. With upcoming tent-pole releases postponed, as well as a reduced audience turn-out on account of pandemic-fears, these chains will certainly struggle and could be forced to close temporarily as a result.
With people world-wide encouraged to stay home and self-isolate, we can expect to see a rise in television consumption and streaming. Disney, who seems to be ever-present in conversations about the media, is expected to launch their new streaming service (Disney+) later this March. The service, which has been available in the United States since 2019, has already made waves for its 'Star Wars' series The Mandalorian, which introduced us all to the adorable Baby Yoda. The service is also expecting to release multiple Marvel Studios series starring Avengers like Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie and Jeremy Renner. Unlike Marvel's previous shows, these series will directly tie into the movie franchises and promise to take intriguing creative risks.
Unfortunately for Marvel Studios, production on one of these shows (Falcon and The Winter Soldier) has been paused; their European filming locations deemed dangerous due to COVID-19. Regardless, the service is still packed with content - from The Simpsons to The World According to Jeff Goldblum - and you can expect its launch to be a big success given its surprising lack of big-screen competition.
The BBC is also riding a wave of acclaim following the premier of its Noughts and Crosses series (based on Malorie Blackman's incredible books). The high-budget show follows the success of His Dark Materials, a BBC and HBO co-production that provided fans with a long-awaited, faithful adaptation of Philip Pullman's fantasy saga. You can expect both of these series to find a larger-than-normal audience on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the BBC may choose to capitalize on this by selling the series' streaming rights to Netflix or BritBox accordingly.
On the subject of streaming rights, many have suggested that Disney may put Mulan and The New Mutants directly onto their new streaming service. This may prove tricky; some stars sign on to a film project after negotiating a 'back-end' deal (meaning they earn a percentage of the box-office on top of their initial salary), and back-end deals simply don't exist in the financial realm of subscription services. Still, I wouldn't be completely surprised if Mulan (or the upcoming Black Widow) was released on Disney+. It is well within Disney's power to place these affected films behind an additional paywall (with subscribers expected to pay to watch these films on top of their monthly fee), after all.
Regardless, one thing seems worryingly clear for fans of the movie-going experience. For quite some time, the way we consume media across the globe has been shifting. The possibilities of the internet have tempted us all away from the silver screen and towards the smaller ones that now clutter our homes. The impact of the coronavirus pandemic could ultimately speed up this process, with film studios opting to avoid a cinema release all-together (in favour of a streaming-debut) and small cinema chains 'going under' as a result.
Only time will tell - these are unprecedented grounds after all. In the meantime, remember to stay safe and hygienic, if not for yourself then for the people around you who may be vulnerable or scared at this time. Stay safe, and stay tuned for some fun BFI Flare Festival coverage later this month...provided it wont eventually find cancellation.
Written by James Green