2020 is going to be a watershed year for theater chains, and not in a good way. Theaters worldwide have been chafing under social distancing policies and lack of new film releases for months now, and to add to their woes, film studios are finding digital VOD releases to be a surprisingly lucrative market. Case in point, according to a report by Yahoo! Finance, Mulan has made more money on Disney+ than Tenet has with a theatrical release.

According to the report by analytics research firm 7Park Data, a third of the households in America with a Disney+ subscription made the decision to fork over the additional $30 fee in order to stream Mulan on the platform. Earlier, Disney had reported that over 60 million people around the world had a Disney+ subscription. If even 50% of those subscribers are from the company's home base in the U.S., that means roughly 9 million users purchased Mulan for $30, which means the Mouse Empire netted a profit of more than $261 million in America alone, since Disney does not have to share any of the profits with theater chains, as is the case with theatrical releases.

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Then there is the fact that Mulan's VOD debut also prompted many new users to opt for a Disney+ subscription, and the profits climb even higher. Compare this to Tenet's struggle to break a $50 million gross with a theatrical release in the U.S., with a worldwide total of a little over $207 million globally, which the studio will have to split with the theater chains which are showing the movie.

In another ominous portent of the things to come for theaters, China, one of the few countries where Mulan opened theatrically, provided a lukewarm reception to the film, thus bringing Mulan's VOD earnings into even sharper focus.

Hollywood likes to chase trends, and Mulan's success with a streaming distribution model has definitely been noticed by other studios, while the tepid box-office performance from Tenet has caused the same studios to postpone the theatrical release of upcoming blockbuster movies.

For now, at least, the writing on the wall is clear. Even for big-budget spectacle movies, most audiences prefer to watch the feature at home rather than risking infection with a trip to the cinemas. All it would take is a few more big-budget movies to release on VOD for this preference to turn into a habit, and then we will see the majority of the studios start to opt for a VOD or VOD+theaterical release distribution model going forward.

With theater chains relying on big-budget blockbusters to bring in the box office numbers to keep their businesses afloat, the future looks bleak for the industry in a post-lockdown world.

Directed by Niki Caro, Mulan features a lead cast of Yifei Liu as Mulan, Donnie Yen as Commander Tung, Jason Scott Lee as Böri Khan and Yoson An as Chen Honghui, with Gong Li as Xianniang and Jet Li as the Emperor. The film is available now through Premier Access on Disney+. This news comes from Yahoo.

Neeraj Chand