One of the many luxuries we have that has been placed on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic is going to the theaters and seeing new movies. Many of the highest anticipated movies of the year have had to, unfortunately, adapt to the sudden lack of exhibition. Most of the highest anticipated had to push back their dates significantly including Black Widow to November 6 and the newest Bond film, No Time to Die, to November 20. Other films, such as Universal’s Fast & Furious 9 and Sony’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife, have had to skip 2020 altogether and move to 2021. With the ever changing landscape of the theatrical release schedule, the fact of the matter is late-2020 and all of 2021 is bloated. Due to this, some films such as Universal’s Trolls: World Tour and Paramount’s Lovebirds are taking the route of going straight to streaming and removing their theatrical run altogether because if they didn’t, they simply wouldn’t have a date to release. Unfortunately, Disney’s Mulan (2020) has jumped on the latter trend and is moving to Disney+ this weekend, on September 4, with a price tag of $29.99 on top of the subscription cost of the service.
The first question becomes why is the price $30 on top of the subscription fee? It all comes down to the movie’s budget. The production budget of Mulan has been reported in multiple outlets as being $200m. On top of that, the marketing budget was roughly $100m, so, in order for Mulan to break even, they will need a minimum $300m of premium access sales. So, when Disney was looking at pricing for Mulan, they had to come up with an estimate minimum amount of their Disney+ subscribers that would purchase the premium access and create a price where that estimate allows them to break even. So, Disney priced Mulan at $30 because their analytics and several business insiders think that 10 million households worldwide will purchase it. So, understanding why it is $30, is it worth it for us as consumers?
Whether or not it is worth the cost is highly dependent on the amount of people in your household and where exactly you live (seeing as I live in the States, numbers used will represent such). General admission movie ticket prices in the United States average around $9.16 collectively. It should be noted that this figure comes from the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) which means, small mom-and-pop theater prices are included which normally are much cheaper than tickets from chains such as REGAL, AMC, Cinemark, and Landmark. If the theaters around you are mostly, if not only, chains, chances are the average ticket price for a standard 2-D showing is between $10-16 depending on your city’s populace. Even so, Mulan was a film primed for premium format screens such as IMAX, Dolby, and 4DX which are all more costly being anywhere between $18-30 depending on the format. For myself, I was planning on seeing the film in either REGAL 4DX (roughly $25 pre-lockdown for a single ticket) or IMAX (roughly $20 pre-lockdown). On first look, it would appear that spending $30 for myself would be ill-advised as it appears to be more expensive than a premium ticket. What needs to also be kept in mind, however, is how much one spends on concessions. If I got my standard concession choices, all of a sudden, the amount I would have spent as a singular patron suddenly well-exceeds the Disney+ price. With watching it at home, I have my own snacks and drinks and don’t have spend inflated food prices.
While I will be saving money with Disney+, it should be reminded that I was going to pay for a premium auditorium and concessions. Most standard single viewers would likely not do one or the other, and if that’s the case, then $30 is most definitely not worth it to them. That is of course if they don’t pair up to see it with other people. Couples also fall in the same boat depending on the price of tickets near them and what they spend on concessions. Families, however, are instantly saving. Even if no concessions are purchased, families of three or more normally spend more than $30 on a night at the movies.
All this is overlooking a big problem: part of the price of the movies is the theater experience. Many people have been very vocal about how the $30 is unreasonable because it is how much people would be willing to pay to see it in theaters and not on their couch at home. I completely understand this argument as there is nothing like watching a movie with a live audience, and it does not matter how good you think your home-system is, it will never be as good as a theater screen with surrounding Dolby speakers. However, there are a few caveats to keep in mind. The first is you aren’t going to have an option. Due to theater-distributor agreements, theaters that make up NATO (chains and independents) will not allow their theaters to show Mulan (assuming they will not make an exception due to COVID) since it is moving to streaming, unless a company such as Fathom Events puts in theaters for only one weekend. So, you can complain that it’s not a theater experience, but your not not going to get the chance to see it in a theater for a very long time, if at all.
The most important thing to keep in mind with whether or not you find the cost worth it, is that this is not a rental. If you buy Mulan, as long as you keep your Disney+ subscription, you have infinite access to it. Eventually, Mulan will become available on Disney+ for everyone, not just those who paid the $30, but that will be months down the line (presumably 3-months as it would coincide with the standard theatrical-to-streaming window and with the Christmas season). So, you will be able to watch Mulan as much as you want for that window of time before everyone who doesn’t pay the premium access.
A great way to look at this is it’s like paying extra for a fastpass at an amusement park or paying for express shipping for a package: by paying an amount you get your product early and skip the lines altogether. Even with express access, however, nothing can compare to sitting in a theater. Mulan is a highly anticipated film that looks absolutely beautiful, has an all Chinese cast, and embraces its roots in Chinese cinema, and as such, it is a shame that we will not be able to watch on the silver screen. However, I will be watching it at home this weekend as it is easily in my top 10 most anticipated films to come out this year and it is worth the cost for me. When looking at Mulan, consider the costs for you as it does not necessarily make sense for everyone.