'Mulan' Strikes Chord With Younger Adults on Premium VOD

Disney's Live-Action Mulan -Publicity Still 14-H 2019
Walt Disney Pictures

A survey conducted by Screen Engine/ASI, one of Hollywood's leading research firms, offers clues as to who paid to watch the tentpole on Disney+.

In summer 2019, Disney's live-action Aladdin exceeded expectations in becoming a member of the billion-dollar club at the global box office, fueled in large part by millennial and Gen Z generations who grew up watching the classic animated film of the same name.

A little more than a year later, the studio's Mulan — another live-action adaptation of a classic Disney animated title — ultimately abandoned a traditional theatrical release because of the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic. Instead, director Niki Caro's adventure epic was made available over Labor Day weekend to subscribers of Disney+ in the U.S. at a premium cost of $29.99 and select international markets at various price points.

While Disney hasn't revealed PVOD numbers — unlike box office, digital earnings are kept close to the vest — an initial survey conducted by leading Hollywood research firm Screen Engine/ASI reveals that 70 percent of the Labor Day weekend audience was between the ages of 13 and 34, well above the norm for a PVOD titles (59 percent), according to data shared with The Hollywood Reporter.

"Younger adults were clearly planning on watching the movie for awhile," says Mark Orne, executive VP of Screen Engine's Cross Platform Group.

Screen Engine began polling those paying to watch PVOD titles after the novel coronavirus pandemic struck in the spring. As theaters closed across the globe, Hollywood began experimenting with PVOD in earnest, including family pics Trolls World Tour and Scoob! and midrange adult-skewing titles including Judd Apatow's The King of Staten Island.

Mulan was slower in terms of family traffic. Part of the reason could be other Labor Day activities, says Orne. Parents of kids between the ages of 5 and 12 made up 27 percent of the survey (the sample size was roughly 100). That's well below both Trolls (47 percent) and Scoob! (35 percent). Both of those titles were geared more for younger audiences; Mulan is rated PG-13 like Disney's all-audience Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

"What will help Mulan going forward is that it has a good recommend score, and specifically among parents," says Orne. "My prediction would be that based on patterns of other family movies, moms will start to come in the second and third weekends. The signs are good."

According to the survey, 54 percent of the overall audience said they would definitely recommend Mulan to friends. Parents came in even higher at 60 percent. Both stats are above the norm (Trolls also garnered high recommend scores.)

Mulan was watched together on average by 3.5 people, says Screen Engine. That's slightly higher than the norm (3.1 percent). And females ages 13 to 34 watched it together with four people or more.

Caro's film played to a more ethnically diverse audience than other PVOD titles, according to Screen Engine. Caucasians made up 35 percent of those surveyed, compared to a norm of 44 percent.

Mulan stars Liu Yifei as the young Chinese heroine who disguises herself as a man to fight in the Imperial Army in a film carefully designed to appeal to Western and Chinese audiences alike.

The Disney pic will need to do big business on PVOD to land in the black, considering its $200 million production budget before marketing. In some territories — including China and Japan — the tentpole will play on the big screen. It opens at the Chinese box office on Sept. 11, a week after earning a promising $6 million from a handful of smaller Asian countries.

Universal hasn't revealed full PVOD earnings for Trolls World Tour, but says turned a profit. It has also said the family pic earned $100 million in PVOD rentals in the U.S. in its first few weeks.

Mulan will remain a premium offering on Disney+ until early December, when it will be made available at no extra cost to all subscribers of the streaming service.