While Disney has taken a more unconventional approach to releasing Mulan in the United States, opting for an add-on to their Disney+ service, the studio still had high hopes for a theatrical release worldwide, particularly in China. That has not paid off. Mulan’s Chinese box office numbers are in and it’s not good.
Despite looking like it should debut at #1 in the Chinese box office, Disney’s latest live-action offering seem on track to make only around $23 million, according to Box Office estimates. Mulan’s biggest competition is Tenet, which sunk by 65% in its second weekend, and The Eight Hundred, a Chinese production which in four weeks has already made $379 million.
This Mulan box office disappointment is just the latest in a long line of controversies that have sprung up around Niki Caro’s $200 live-action remake. The film’s star, Liu Yifei, stated on Chinese social media site Weibo that she supported the Hong Kong police, despite the excessive force they have shown against peaceful protestors. This stance caused the hashtag #BoycottMulan to gain popularity on Twitter.
This hashtag was again revived after Mulan’s release, when it was revealed that Disney thanked the Xinjiang province, a part of the country recently under fire for its human rights violations against the Muslin Uighur people, placing the Turkish-speaking people in interment camps.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Caro commented on having to cut a kissing scene between Mulan and her love interest Chen Honghui, played by Yoson An. Caro stated “It was very beautiful, but the China office went, ‘No, you can’t, that doesn’t feel right to the Chinese people,’ so we took it out.” Even with this editing, China has banned all media from covering Mulan.
Caro’s film is Disney’s most expensive live-action adaptation yet, and this lackluster box office for Mulan in China is just another blow to Disney recouping their costly remake. Another of the studio’s live-action releases, the oft-delayed Kenneth Branagh-directed Artemis Fowl, was released in June on the company’s Disney+ streaming service.
Yet with Mulan, Disney began an offer to stream with Premier Access, a choice that cost $29.99, in addition to the cost of the Disney+ service. The film rapidly fell from the site’s most watched programs and Disney soon announced that Mulan would be available for no extra charge on Disney+ in December. However, Mulan has also likely lost quite a bit of money in this release strategy through widespread piracy of the film.
Via Deadline, Disney’s Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy discussed the issues Mulan has come up against at the box office:
“I’m not a box-office prognosticator, but it has generated a lot of publicity. Let me just put something into context. The real facts are that Mulan was primarily shot – almost in entirety – in New Zealand. In an effort to accurately depict some of the unique landscape and geography of the country of China for this period drama, we filmed scenery in 20 different locations in China. It’s common knowledge that, in order to film in China, you have to be granted permission. That permission comes from the central government.”
McCarthy also went on to say that it’s common “to acknowledge in a film’s credits the national and local governments that allowed you to film there. So, in our credits, it recognized both China and locations in New Zealand. I would just leave it at that, but it has generated a lot of issues for us.”
With a month-long run planned for China, Mulan now projected to make only $41 million.