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Media & Entertainment

Disney's China push derailed with delay of 'Mulan' release

Movie theaters cut seating capacities amid coronavirus scare

Liu Yifei at the premiere for Mulan in Los Angeles on March 9.   © Reuters

NEW YORK -- After much speculation, Disney has officially postponed the release of "Mulan" because of increasing concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.

The highly anticipated live-action film based on a classic Disney cartoon was scheduled to hit theaters on March 27, but that was called off by the company on Thursday. The company has not revealed a new release date for the movie.

"Mulan" has attracted much interest since the film was in production. The film stars Liu Yifei, Gong Li and Donnie Yen, who are popular actors with a massive fan base in China. The movie was expected to be a blockbuster, bringing huge success to Disney in both the U.S. and China.

Disney's previous classic remakes have generally done well in theaters. The 2017 live-action film "Beauty and the Beast" brought in nearly $1.3 billion in box office receipts worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo's data. Last year's "The Lion King" raked in almost $1.7 billion, including $120 million in China alone, according to Box Office Mojo.

Hollywood studios are struggling with the pandemic as moviegoers stay at home. Several blockbusters have delayed their release dates, including James Bond's final adventure "No Time to Die," Fast and Furious sequel "F9," horror film sequel "A Quiet Place Part II," science fiction film "Antlers," Marvel film "New Mutants" and family friendly film "Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway."

As coronavirus shocks the world with confirmed cases increasing daily, China closed down theaters last month and remained closed as of Friday. There are more than 137,000 confirmed cases and over 5,000 deaths in the world, with the majority of cases in China.

The U.S. is currently experiencing a rapid climb in confirmed cases. The number skyrocketed to more than 1,600 on Friday, a 1,500% increase from a week ago, as health authorities start to expand testing for the novel coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 disease.

"Social distancing is an essential public health intervention. It is heartening to see Hollywood studios postpone major releases in the service of public health. It will have a significant impact on how the 2020 market performs," said Aynne Kokas, assistant professor of media studies at the University of Virginia.

"However, this move helps to reduce the likelihood of the disease" spreading further, which would have "a much more substantial long-term risk to theatrical markets," Kokas added.

Movie theater chain AMC Entertainment's shares have dropped almost 60% since the beginning of the year as coronavirus outbreak continues to affect the economy and consumer behaviors. Cinemark's shares have fallen roughly 57% since January.

AMC on Friday said the company will halve the seating capacity of every one of its theater's auditoriums starting on Saturday till April 30. The theater giant will cap ticket sales for each showtime and enhance cleaning efforts at every one of its theaters.

"These are uncharted times in the United States. We are very closely monitoring the guidance of the CDC," said Adam Aron, CEO and president of AMC, referring to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "With this action, we are facilitating the 'social distance' between guests who still want to see movies on a big screen."

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