Disney‘s Mulan malfunctioned in its China box office debut with a disheartening $23.2 million.
The $200 million tentpole was made with both Chinese and American audiences top of mind.
Directed by Niki Caro, the live-action adaptation of the classic animated title headlines popular Chinese-born actress Liu Yiefei as a young woman who disguises herself as a man in order to fight in the imperial army. Mulan co-stars a slew of Chinese cinema icons, including Gong Li, Jet Li, Donnie Yen and others.
In the days leading up to the film’s Middle Kingdom opening, analysts had expected it to take in anywhere from $30 million to $40 million over the Sept. 11-13 frame. (Christopher Nolan‘s Tenet, after all, had launched to $30 million the previous weekend.)
On Friday, Mulan received particularly poor social scores on China’s leading ticket apps, Maoyan and Alibaba‘s Taopiaopiao, in a foretelling of the movie’s weekend start. Ultimately, Disney‘s global vision of a story based on an ancient Chinese fable doesn’t seem to be resonating with moviegoers in that country.
The Disney event pic was originally set to unfurl in theaters around the globe in late March, but those plans were waylaid when the novel coronavirus struck, forcing mass cinema closures.
Disney delayed the release date several times before ultimately deciding to send Mulan straight to Disney+ at a premium price in the U.S. and other select markets. In other territories — such as China and Russia — Mulan is getting a traditional theatrical release.
Late last year, Mulan became the subject of controversy after Liu voiced her support for the Hong Kong police force, which was then in the midst of brutally suppressing the city’s pro-democracy movement. Her comments sparked a heated online backlash under the hashtag #BoycottMulan. In recent weeks, the online campaign was revived.
Also, in recent days, viewers watching the movie spotted a “special thanks” in the film’s credits to various government entities in Xinjiang Provence, where China has been accused of gross human rights abuses against its Muslim Uighur minority population. (Roughly a minute of the movie was filmed in that province.)
Addressing the latest uproar last week, Walt Disney Co. chief financial officer Christine McCarthy said while Mulan was filmed almost entirely in New Zealand, scenery was filmed in 20 locations in China or order to capture the unique landscape of that country. She said it is common industry practice to “acknowledge in a film’s credits the national and local governments that allowed you to film there.”
All told, Mulan is playing on the big screen in 17 markets so far, earning an early $37.6 million to date.
The company hasn’t released any viewership numbers of those paying $29.99 to watch Caro‘s film on Disney+, although McCarthy told investors she was “very pleased with what we saw over the four-day weekend.”