Movie theaters pinning their reopening success on the August release of blockbuster hopefuls “Tenet’” and “Mulan” are in for a nasty surprise, industry experts said.
With COVID-19 cases on the rise in major cities across the US, it’s looking increasingly doubtful that Warner Bros. will premiere Christopher Nolan’s spy flick “Tenet” next month, dealing a harsh blow to theaters, said MKM analyst Eric Handler.
“We place a low likelihood of ‘Tenet’ opening on August 12 given a rising number of COVID-19 cases in key areas such as California, Texas and Florida along with the slowed re-opening of the New York City economy,” Handler said. “In our view, it would be surprising to see theaters able to re-open nationwide before September, at the earliest.”
Handler expects 2020 domestic box office sales to slide 70 percent from 2019 levels of $11.4 billion, and not rebound until 2022.
Disney investors, meanwhile, are betting that the live-action remake of animated hit “Mulan” could skip movie houses entirely and go straight to Disney’s streaming service, Disney+, said LightShed analyst Rich Greenfield.
For Disney, sending “Mulan” straight to streaming would appear to make economic sense even if it would “deliver a death blow to theaters,” Greenfield said. Disney currently drives 40 to 50 percent of the worldwide box office.
“A movie like ‘Mulan,’ pre-COVID, expected to do north of $1 billion” at the box office, Greenfield explained. “If an average movie ticket is $10 that means that 100 million people would need to buy a ticket for ‘Mulan’ to hit its numbers,” he said. “It seems hard to fathom right now.”
Reps for the studios declined to comment on their premiere plans, but both “Tenent” and “Mulan” have already delayed their movie theater debuts due to the spread of the coronavirus. “Tenet,” originally scheduled for July 31, delayed its release to August 12, while Disney postponed “Mulan” from July 24 to August 21.
Greenfield pointed to “Hamilton,” Lin Manuel’s Broadway smash hit, which made its exclusive Disney+ debut on July 3, as a potential blueprint for how the Mouse House could handle “Mulan.”
Disney, which paid $75 million for the rights to the musical, had originally planned to show the filmed version of the show in theaters. But by taking “Hamilton” straight to its streaming service, the Mouse House benefited from a 74-percent spike in Disney+ app downloads in the US to 458,796 over the prior year, analytics firm Apptopia said. Globally, the app was downloaded 752,451 times, amounting to a 46.6 percent increase over last year.
Theater chains AMC, Regal and Cinemark have already raised alarm bells over their financial health since their theaters were forced to shutter across the country in March. AMC is nearing a debt-restructuring deal to avoid bankruptcy, while Regal and Cinemark have raised debt and cut costs in a bid to stay afloat.
“Everything is pointing towards streaming movies,” Greenfield said. “The more you do this, the harder it is to shift back.”