New Mutants, a spin-off from 21st Century Fox’s mostly successful X-Men franchise, released to American theatres last Friday to negative reviews and very little fanfare save for a smattering of promotional trailers in the couple of weeks leading up to its release.
The movie’s release felt weird in today’s pandemic-dictated climate. Disney, which acquired the film studio last year, refused to release the movie to streaming platforms as it will for its upcoming Mulan remake this Friday, instead opting to push the movie to reopening theatres across the United States.
Watch the new music video for “Reflection (2020)” performed by @Xtina, from Disney’s #Mulan. https://t.co/ERQTEMl1IE Start streaming Disney’s #Mulan in 1 week exclusively on #DisneyPlus with Premier Access. For more info: https://t.co/iy94t8BgR3 pic.twitter.com/hPrcHIETlG
— Walt Disney Studios (@DisneyStudios) August 28, 2020
The fact that releasing movies to streaming platforms early has become such a viable option is a hallmark of today’s strange times, dictated by the danger of packing people into tiny cinema halls. Or at least, cinema halls in certain places. Case in point: Mulan will not see its Disney+ release before theatres; rather, it will still be released theatrically in countries where theaters have re-opened, such as China, as well as in other countries that do not have Disney+ (Malaysia being one of them).
However, streaming has still not completely taken over theatres. Weird as it may have felt to people with common sense, the theatres-only release of New Mutants is no outlier; Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster Tenet, which released on 23 July to rave reviews, will likely not see streaming platforms until 2021.
Nolan is a famous advocate for the cinemas, having often released 70mm and IMAX versions of his films for the optimal cinematic experience. Besides that reason, studios are fighting to stick to theatre releases mainly for one reason: money.
— Complex (@Complex) September 1, 2020
The bottom line is that streaming simply doesn’t make as much money for studios as cinemas do. A studio doesn’t make money on a specific title it releases to a streaming service, but only on the subscription fees that the service’s viewers pay every month. An increase in revenue, therefore, would mainly come from an increase in streaming subscriptions.
— The Hollywood Reporter (@THR) September 1, 2020
In other words, it’s impossible to match the money a studio can make off cinemas, or the pay-per-view model. It’s a huge reason why only a handful of releases have opted to skip the cinemas entirely. Most Hollywood films have pushed to late 2020 or found a new home in 2021.
The movies that are doing well at home, it seems, are mostly family and animated movies. “What we are seeing in terms of the films that people are watching at home is that they are family movies,” says Erik Davis, managing editor at American ticketing company Fandango. “It’s the dominant genre right now. A lot of families are home so that’s why you are seeing titles like Trolls World Tour, Scoob! and Artemis Fowl choosing to go home during this time.”
Trolls’ video-on-demand success was hailed as an example of the new cinematic climate, but the facts remain: 1) these kinds of movies are in high demand with parents, and 2) animated blockbusters such as Trolls have merchandise and toy deals tied to the films. For such movies, merchandise makes up a good portion of revenue.
″[Animated films] have a very long shelf life and exhibition is a much smaller percentage of the mix,” says Michael Pachter, analyst at financial services firm Wedbush. “I’m sure that that merchandising has a lot to do with animated films skipping the window.”
The Academy Awards and its requirements for nomination are another reason studios are sticking to theatrical releases. A film must be released in a commercial theatre in Los Angeles County for at least seven days and be shown three times a day in order to be eligible for a nomination.
It’s unclear if this year’s Oscars will be impacted by the pandemic. It would be strange, though, if the Academy refuses to budge on requirements. The pandemic isn’t likely to disappear soon, and theatre ticket sales will likely suffer for a good deal longer than we hope.