Here's what Disney+'s release battle - pitting live-action remake Mulan against Hamilton - reveals for the streaming platform. Both releases premiered on Disney+ due to the coronavirus pandemic and both highly anticipated projects were successful for the Disney streaming service. Although Hamilton was originally supposed to premiere in theaters in October 2021, Disney released the movie digitally on Disney+ in July 2020. Mulan was scheduled to premiere in cinemas in March 2020 before being moved to the streaming service and was Disney's first major film to be released exclusively online.
Mulan is loosely based on the 1998 animated movie, but is much more faithful to the original poem "The Ballad of Mulan." After Disney announced that Mulan would only be available to Disney+ subscribers who paid $29.99 for premiere access, the movie was finally released in September to somewhat mixed reviews. Hamilton, a live recording of the critically acclaimed stage production starring the original Broadway cast, premiered in July on Disney+ free to all subscribers. Data for both releases reveal that they were successful for Disney+ - but which one is ultimately a more viable model for Disney?
Initial numbers revealed that Hamilton slightly outperformed Mulan in terms of how many people actually watched it. Prior to the release of Hamilton, Disney+ saw a 72.4% increase in app downloads, compared to a 68% increase before Mulan. In addition, Hamilton was watched by 2.7 million households on the first weekend, and a staggering 37.1% of Disney+ subscribers watched the musical during the first month after Hamilton's release on Disney+. In comparison, Mulan was only watched by a total of 1.12 million households - less than half of Hamilton's audience.
However, strictly comparing Hamilton's release data to Mulan's isn't a fair comparison. Although more people in total watched Hamilton, the $29.99 access fee required to watch Mulan means that Mulan grossed $35.5 million the first weekend it was on Disney+. Since Mulan was released only on streaming and didn't have a domestic release in theaters, Disney didn't pay any distributions fees and took home $35.5 million entirely in net profit. In doing so, Mulan proved that Disney can forgo a traditional theatrical release in favor of the more profitable streaming model.
Hamilton was less commercially successful than Mulan but was more successful for Disney+ in terms of viewership numbers. In addition to the rise in app downloads, Hamilton proved that there's a market for streaming access to Broadway musicals. Although Hamilton isn't Disney's first musical released via streaming - the filmed Broadway production of Newsies came out in 2017 - Hamilton is by far the most successful. Broadway shows are a big financial risk when it comes to streaming due to complicated contract negotiations, such as Hamilton's Leslie Odom Jr., or prohibitively expensive filming rights. The undeniable success of Hamilton proved that the $75 million risk Disney took on with the musical paid off.
Both of Disney's high profile Disney+ releases proved that the future of movies is online. Using Mulan's model of charging a fee to watch the film, while it still wasn't as financially successful as Disney's other live-action remakes, made the studio $35.5 million in addition to the increase in app downloads. Although Hamilton had more widespread popularity, the Disney+ release battle ultimately revealed that people are willing to pay a fee in exchange for access to high profile releases, and the most viable option for the future of Disney+ is following in the footsteps of Mulan.