Disney Pulls MULAN, Delays AVATAR And STAR WARS Films (FILM NEWS)

On Monday, when Warner Bros. indefinitely delayed the theatrical release of Tenet, I said that their one decision would set off a far-reaching, industry-wide ripple effect that would begin this week.

That started today with Disney.

In an expected move, Walt Disney Studios yanked their live-action remake of Mulan from its August 21 release. The surprise involved with that announcement is that they listed it as “undated” rather than naming and claiming a new marker on the calendar, whether in 2020 or 2021.

In addition, the upcoming Avatar sequels and untitled Star Wars movies have all been delayed a full year. Originally scheduled to swap holiday releases starting in December 2021, now the two franchises will follow the same every-other-year pattern beginning in 2022.

It’s highly unlikely that Mulan will move to streamer Disney+ or forego a theatrical release altogether. Disney is too invested in making a theatrical run happen for that title (and, more broadly, its live-action remakes of their animated classics), plus they would simply lose too much money by abandoning theatrical in North America.

So what does today’s “undated” designation likely mean? Quite simply, that Disney now has the luxury of biding their time (at least for a bit) to see how things shake out in the near future — and what other industry moves may emerge — before deciding on a concrete release plan for Mulan. (Other titles on their 2020 docket that are almost certain to move at some point as well).

The thing that Disney will be most interested in following is if Warner Bros. actually goes forward with their teased proposal to platform Tenet globally. The WB seemed to confirm that they are close to announcing a strategy where Tenet would open ASAP in international territories that can support a theatrical run. They would then follow suit with Tenet in other countries and regions as they become available.

That plan could make North America one of the very last to see Tenet garner any kind of theatrical play, which makes the plan suspect at best. Suffice it to say, Disney won’t be the only people or organization watching with interest to see what Warners attempts, or doesn’t.

Even so, Disney probably can’t wait too long to claim a new date for Mulan. Available windows will likely be taken by other studios in the near future as other 2020 movies soon shift to 2021.

It’s not any easy lateral move for Disney. With so many sub-studios under their corporate umbrella, there’s a lot of moving parts they have to consider. Mulan had been positioned as the studio’s “comeback” anchor, but that may need to change. Don’t be surprised of a hype-able MCU tentpole like Black Widow takes that pole position.

In addition to all of that, Disney also announced changes to the slate of their 20th Century Studios films. Formerly known as 20th Century Fox before Disney purchased the legendary Hollywood studio earlier this year, 20th (which includes the main studio as well as indie/arthouse label Searchlight) has now delayed the following titles accordingly:

  • The Personal History of David Copperfield (Searchlight) moves two weeks to Aug. 28, 2020.
  • Death on the Nile (20th Century) shifts two weeks to Oct. 23, 2020.
  • The Empty Man (20th Century) moves to Dec. 4, 2020, from August 1.
  • The French Dispatch (Searchlight), previously dated Oct. 16, 2020, is now unset.
  • Antlers (Searchlight) is now dated Feb. 19, 2021.
  • The Last Duel (20th Century), previously dated December 25, 2020, now moves ten months to October 15, 2021.

Those new dates range from head-scratching to necessary, the latter also resulting in major implications.

First, the necessary with major implications: The Last Duel (from director Ridley Scott and starring co-writers Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, along with Adam Driver) is a big action period piece that was slated to be 20th Studio’s big 2020 Oscar play. The move confirms that Disney has officially given up on the whole 2020 Awards Season.

That is a big decision, folks. Gigantic.

That one move itself could trigger several interesting ripple effects in how other studios reposition or delay their current 2020 Awards Season hopefuls. This year’s Oscar options could be very barren, and/or almost entirely driven by streaming premieres. Netflix — which has David Fincher‘s Mank, Spike Lee‘s Da 5 Bloods, and Aaron Sorkin‘s The Trial of the Chicago Seven — may finally get their long-coveted Best Picture Academy Award.

Doubling-down on abandoning the 2020 Awards Season: Wes Anderson‘s The French Dispatch is now also undated. That art house entry would have been Searchlight’s big Academy Award contender for 2020, but it’ll have to wait until next year now, too.

The head-scratchers from the list are the first three movies, all of which remain dated for 2020 and two being bumped by a mere two weeks from their original release dates. None of that makes sense in light of Disney bailing on 2020 completely with their most prestigious titles.

The logic, however, could be that those movies are absolutley “2020 Or Bust”, which could mean shifting to them to VOD or streaming platforms on those dates if theatrical still isn’t possible. Death of the Nile, the Poirot mystery sequel to Murder on the Orient Express, could land on Disney+ while the two Searchlight titles (The Personal History of David Copperfield and The Empty Man) could end up on Disney-owned Hulu.

This is a lot to process. With Dune, West Side Story, and Soul (to name a few) still lingering out there for 2020, expect a lot more to come.

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