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Disney's live-action Mulan wanted to be one of the big tentpole releases welcoming people back to theaters. While that didn't end up working out domestically, as the movie has instead been released as a premium VOD product on Disney+, the film is getting theatrical distribution elsewhere, including in China, a country that was expected to be big for Mulan for numerous reasons. Unfortunately, it's not working out that way, as the film opened in China to only $23 million on its first weekend, which was below expectations that were already on the low side.
China is the second biggest box office in the world and is a place where Disney often finds box office success with Marvel movies and other major tentpole releases. And with Mulan being a Chinese story, there was, of course, hope that China would embrace this new live-action version. The studio made no secret that many of the changes made from the original Disney animated version were done specifically to better appeal to the Chinese audience.
According to THR, expectations were that Mulan would do something in the range of $30 to $40 million, which would have put the film either on par or better than the $30 million that Tenet did on its first weekend in China, but it didn't work out that way. Chinese response has not been kind to the film. It seems that while Disney tried to make this movie specifically appeal to the Chinese audience, that hasn't worked out.
It will be interesting to see what it is about the new Mulan that didn't work for China. Everything from the removal of Mushu the talking dragon to the fact that Mulan doesn't cut her hair in the new version of the film was done, at least in part, because elements like those in the original movie were part of the reason the animated version didn't work in China the first time around.
The Chinese box office accounts for more than half of the total international take for Mulan, which has brought in $37.6 million from 17 different markets. How much the movie has brought in from Disney+ has yet to be announced by the House of Mouse, though the public comments we have heard indicate that Disney is happy with what the studio has seen. Estimates are that something in the range of one million households viewed the film on its opening weekend domestically but that doesn't take into account what happened in other countries that saw the Disney+ or the viewership that has been added since then.
Certainly, the $200 million blockbuster is going to have some trouble being successful in the current environment, but that's going to be the case for any movie, regardless of how popular it might have been otherwise. Mulan was going to be a big hit, and it still might be, even if what constitutes a big hit right now is very different.