Disney’s next installment in its remake series, “Mulan,” is estimated in the first round of box office tracking to have an $80 million opening weekend when it opens on March 27. But these numbers come with a wave of uncertainty thanks to rising fears over the coronavirus.
Thousands of theaters across China remain closed due to the spread of the novel disease, taking a massive blow to the country’s exhibition industry as the lockdown began at the start of the lucrative Lunar New Year period. Now that the holiday has come and gone, the closures are beginning to damage the bottom lines of Hollywood films, as Paramount’s “Sonic the Hedgehog,” despite nearing $300 million worldwide, is seeing its overseas potential diminish as the film’s release in China was indefinitely postponed last week.
There’s no guarantee that “Mulan,” an American take on the story of a Chinese woman disguising herself as a male soldier to protect her father, would be a hit in China. American films with all-Asian casts like “Crazy Rich Asians” and “The Farewell” have not found a foothold with Chinese audiences in recent years.
But Disney has needed widespread success in overseas markets to push these remakes to the $1 billion-plus heights they have regularly hit recently. Last summer, Jon Favreau’s remake of “The Lion King” made $120 million in China. In Italy and South Korea, two other countries severely affected by the coronavirus crisis, the film combined for $78 million. In all, “The Lion King” grossed $1.11 billion, or two-thirds of its $1.65 billion total, outside the U.S.
As the coronavirus situation unfolds, it is difficult to say what the state of several key countries will be when “Mulan” is scheduled to open in 37 markets — including the U.S., U.K., China and major European countries — in the last week of March. But the sudden decision on Wednesday by MGM and Universal to move the release of “No Time to Die” to Thanksgiving weekend in response to the crisis is raising concerns in Hollywood about whether coronavirus fears will make moviegoers reluctant to go to theaters. This is particularly a concern for franchises like the James Bond series and “Fast & Furious” which have made more than 70% of their grosses overseas.
As for the U.S., it is still unclear whether coronavirus concerns will affect domestic moviegoer turnout. For now, films that rely more on American audiences are staying put, as Universal moved “Trolls World Tour” up a week into the release slot left behind by “No Time to Die.” This weekend’s release of “Onward,” which is projected for a $45 million domestic opening, will serve as a gauge on how the virus and news surrounding it is affecting audience interest.
“Mulan” is directed by Niki Caro and stars Liu Yifei, Donnie Yen, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Tzi Ma, Rosalind Chao, Gong Li, and Jet Li. The screenplay was written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin.