Box Office Battle: Mulan vs Tenet

Just 2 days from now, on September 4th, we will be witness to what is perhaps one of the most important weekends for the film industry, movie critics, directors, producers, and general audiences overall. This Labor Day weekend, two major motion pictures will be released simultaneously in the United States across two vastly different platforms. Now usually, this would be your typical competition between two major studios, except, it’s actually not. The stakes in this “Box Office Battle”, as I like to call it, are actually much greater than any previous box office encounter for two major studios. Very few people realize the importance of this coming weekend and it’s that the outcome of this contest could very well determine how the film industry moves forward in light of the COVID-19 Pandemic, and the result could even affect the future of cinema as we knew it then. So let’s get right into it.



Judging by the title, I’m certain that you know the two films going head to head this weekend. But let’s break them down so you know how we got here.




Disney’s Live-Action Adaptation of the famous Chinese folk tale was meant to portray a more “accurate” telling of the story of Hua Mulan. Directed by the incredible filmmaker “Niki Caro”, Disney’s “Mulan” tells a story in which “a fearless young woman risks everything out of love for her family and her country to become one of the greatest warriors China has ever known. When the Emperor of China issues a decree that one man per family must serve in the Imperial Army to defend the country from Northern invaders, Hua Mulan, the eldest daughter of an honored warrior, steps in to take the place of her ailing father. Masquerading as a man, Hua Jun, she is tested every step of the way and must harness her inner-strength and embrace her true potential. It is an epic journey that will transform her into an honored warrior and earn her the respect of a grateful nation…and a proud father.”


The film stars Yifei Liu as Mulan, along with Tzi Ma, Yoson An, Gong Li, Donnie Yen, Jason Scott Lee, Ron Yuan, & Jet Li for an incredible assortment of actors and actresses of high caliber.


The film was originally meant to release in theaters on March 9th of this year, but the global pandemic has since delayed the release of the film to a new release date, 6 months later.



PITT_Hero_MLP_1440_v2 copyThe highly anticipated sci-fi/spy thriller from the acclaimed director; Christopher Nolan, “Tenet” tells a story unlike any explored before, one that can only be explored from such a director. “Armed with only one word—Tenet—and fighting for the survival of the entire world, the Protagonist journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real-time. Not time travel. Inversion.”


The film stars John David Washington as the new Protagonist, along with the likes of Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia, Martin Donovan, Fiona Dourif, Yuri Kolokolnikov, Himesh Patel, Clémence Poésy, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, with Michael Caine and Kenneth Branagh for an incredibly powerful and diverse cast.


Originally scheduled for a July 17, 2020 release in IMAX theaters, the film was pushed back several times before finally deciding on a September 4 release date.


What makes this Box Office Contest so important?

Unlike previous premieres, the way these two films will compete in the Box Office is vastly different.

MULWhile Tenet will be debuting in theaters the traditional way, Mulan will be taking a different approach and will be releasing the film via their Disney+ streaming service under a new brand titled “Premier Access”, something we have discussed thoroughly on this platform. Now, the way “Premier Access” works is:


“Starting September 4, with Premier Access, you can watch Mulan before it’s available to all Disney+ subscribers. Disney+ will offer Premier Access to Mulan for $29.99 on and select platforms, including Apple, Google, and Roku. Once you have Premier Access to Mulan, you can watch as many times as you want on any platform where Disney+ is available. Your access to Mulan will continue as long as you are an active Disney+ subscriber.”


Now, these are two relatively different business models. One offers people the ability to watch a motion picture from the safety & comfort of their homes for a fee, while the other offers audiences the more traditional way of seeing films, albeit the immediate health risk wherever theaters are still open. With any business model, there are it’s pros and it’s cons.




The Pro: As previously mentioned, is that you can watch Mulan from the safety and comfort of your own home without having to expose yourself to the health hazards of the outside world. And with over 60 million subscribers and more on the way with the eventual launch of Disney+ in Latin America in November, if this business model is successful with Mulan and theater restrictions continue in the US & around the world, we could see more blockbuster films eventually released under this brand, mainly Disney’s Soul & Marvel Studios’ highly-anticipated Black Widow.


The Con: However, by making it available only to Disney+, it limits itself in only making it available in countries where Disney+ is available, which is currently United States, Canda, Puerto Rico, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, India, and Europe. Also, some subscribers of the platform have expressed their dislike for Disney’s new business model as they find the need to pay a $30 fee to see the film early is something unnecessary in their view. Disney has described the move in a Q3 earnings report, as a “one-off”, (though our own personal investigations have said otherwise).




The Pro: Now I personally love the theater. The smell of popcorn, the ambiance, it’s supposed to allow us to escape our reality for a few hours and immerse ourselves in a world of fiction. Going to Drive-In theaters can be a wonderful experience to escape the 4 walls we’ve been forced to live in for the past few months.


The Con: However, I must also state the massive con Tenet has going against it, which is that right now, we are in a pandemic that has forced many to quarantine themselves and has forced the shutdown of many indoor theaters. While a large number of people may not plan on going so as to not risk any contagion, those who plan on going to see the film also face another potential disadvantage which is that they have to find a drive-in theater that will showcase Tenet and even if your drive-in theater is open, Warner Bros. plans to release Tenet only in “Select Drive-In Theaters”, “mandating that “Tenet” can only play in outdoor venues if indoor theaters in that particular market are open”, which in itself, limits even further the revenue that Tenet can accumulate on opening weekend.




There are multiple key factors that play in here when determining which motion picture might snag the opening weekend win, or better put, who would “break even” first. Mainly:

  • Location Accessibility
  • Reviews
  • Revenue to “Break Even”

Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” will be available to the general public via traditional theater format only, meaning it limits itself to locations where both outdoor venues & indoor theaters are open. However, the film has some generally great reviews about how the film’s originality and use of mindbending VFX to convey a fantastic production, which boosts its popularity among audiences, but with that incredible amount of production, comes a price. In order to break even, Tenet would need to pull in around $450 million. (Which in my view, is an extremely high price to pay for such a risky move).


Disney’s Mulan” however, tells a different story. By releasing on a PVOD format, the film will be available to all 60.5 million subscribers around the world where Disney+ is available. While there aren’t many reviews available for the film, the popularity of Disney is so widespread that people are bound to know about this film already. Lastly, in order for Disney to break even, Mulan would need to generate $300 million in revenue. (Something that is entirely possible given the amount of subscribers Disney+ has and that the demographic for this film is users that have families and small kids.)


So, if I had to pick a scenario of how Labor Day Weekend might play out…



mulan__2020__japaneses_poster_textless_by_mintmovi3_ddruacu (2)

I see Mulan potentially breaking even first, and possibly generating even more than what they have invested in this film during their first week, given the amount of subscribers the platform has. In my own personal opinion, it is the safest way to go see a film given the circumstances.

Now, this does not mean that Tenet does not have a chance at breaking even. Tenet could break even, but at a much slower rate than Mulan given the circumstances of the release. For it’s international release weekend, the epic spy/sci-fi thriller managed to achieve a $53 million debut despite the ongoing pandemic. HOWEVER, while Tenet may be an absolute masterpiece from the brilliant mind of Christopher Nolan, I don’t see a scenario where many people might go to drive-in theaters (sometimes traveling large distances), limited in the way Warner Bros. has done for this film. Not only that, but people might not take the risk of exposing themselves to the virus.

But, no one knows for sure. Only time will tell what the audiences will do next week.

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