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TV & streaming

Disney’s new movie is skipping theaters – will this change things for good?

The 2020 movie season has been a surreal, strange test in how to navigate releasing new blockbusters in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. This is the first time studios have had to contend with self-distancing rules, quarantine closings and theater shutdowns across the nation.

To help temper the COVID-19 storm, some film studios and theaters have gotten innovative about new movie releases. Some of the blockbuster films that were slated for release this summer were held back, and others have been pivoted to at-home premieres instead. Looking for a good movie at home? Tap or click here for the 10 best sites that offer movies for free.

At-home film releases make it easier and safer for new movies to land in the laps of movie buffs. All you have to do is click a button on the remote and you’ve got access to the film for a few days before it disappears. Disney isn’t following that rental format with the new release of Mulan next month, though. The studio will be switching things up — and its plan could spell trouble for movie theaters across the globe.

Disney’s plan for Mulan

Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan is set to premiere in September, but it won’t be hitting the drive-in or movie theaters. You’ll be able to stream it from the comfort of your own home instead. What’s unusual about that plan is that Mulan will only be available for subscribers of Disney+ — and you’ll have to pay for it.

Disney+ subscribers, who already pay for a monthly subscription with the streaming service, will also have to pay $29.99 to watch the film. That $30 isn’t just for a 72-hour rental of Mulan, though. It includes a copy of the film, which you can keep to watch again and again.

This is the first time that an at-home film premiere has included a copy of the film in the rental price, but $30 is still pretty steep. Regardless of the price, though, this move by Disney could change the face of how film releases work — especially when it comes to access from home.

Mulan was initially scheduled to premiere in theaters on March 27 but was pushed back to open July 24 due to coronavirus. The increase in cases nationwide pushed the premiere again, and in July, Disney decided to hold off completely on releasing the film. Something changed between July and August, though — and now Disney plans to release the film directly to streaming.

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This is a major change from the way movie releases have worked in the past. Prior to COVID, films would premiere in theaters and would stay on the big screen until interest waned.

The turnaround time from theaters to on-demand availability was about 6 months. That meant you couldn’t watch the film anywhere other than theaters for a few months, and then you’d have to wait until the option popped up on your streaming service to rent or watch it.

This new strategy by Disney could signal a change in the way movie releases work in the future — and it could be the nail in the coffin for the struggling movie theater industry.

Movie theaters have taken a big hit in recent months, both from the nationwide shutdowns and tepid moviegoers who are concerned about the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

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If people have the option to circumvent theaters and catch new releases at home, they may be willing to pony up the $30 to do so — especially if it gives them a copy of the film in return.

And film companies seem to be on board with this new plan, too. While Disney is the first studio to release a film in this manner, AT&T, Comcast, and Walt Disney all indicated back in May that they were ready to test the direct-to-consumer waters and bypass theater releases of feature films.

Should that happen, theaters will likely become obsolete — unless people shy away from the (admittedly stiff) price of admission for at-home streaming and opt to watch the film on the big screen instead.

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