Disney (NYSE:DIS) is on a mission to summon fresh magic from some of its most beloved stories, and the potential payoff is massive. Hot on the heels of its successful live-action Cinderella remake, The Mouse House has announced that it is developing an update to its 1998 animated classic, Mulan, though a release window has yet to be announced. The move is anything but shocking.
Disney has access to the strongest catalog of properties in the film business, and the current Hollywood climate is very welcoming to adaptations of established stories. What's more, Mulan has the benefit of building on Disney's previous box office success with remakes, which will work in its favor and help drive the film to incredible box office success. Here's why Disney's Mulan is poised to gross more than $1 billion .
Let's get down to business
Cinderella is the first of the House of Mouse's new remake projects to center on one of its famed princesses, but the company's latest remaking spree actually kicked off with 2010's Alice in Wonderland, a film that garnered over $1 billion in global box office receipts. Next up on Disney's list of recent reimaginings was 2014's Maleficent, which offered a radically different take on the classic Sleeping Beauty tale and earned roughly $760 million in tickets internationally.
In addition to the recently announced Mulan project, a Jungle Book remake will release in 2016, and an updated Beauty and the Beast is set to bow in 2017. The company has also confirmed live-action versions of Dumbo and Winnie the Pooh; additional remakes are sure to follow.
The Princess brand
While Cinderella probably won't match the box office takes of either Alice in Wonderland or Maleficent, it's already a big win for Disney. The picture has grossed roughly $400 million since its March 13 release, and audiences and critics alike seem to have fallen in love with the story of the overworked girl and the magic slippers all over again. The film's critical and commercial performance bodes quite well for Mulan and other movies centering on Disney princesses.
The Disney princess branding has been an important part of the company's theme park and merchandise businesses, even in the absence of big-budget movies centering on individual members of the royal group. Now that Cinderella has made an enviable debut, Disney is in great position to create a loosely nit franchise of film remakes that works to generate interest in future updates. This new series of movies has the potential to benefit from the Disney legacy and the high pedigree of preceding releases. Cinderella currently boasts an impressive 84% critical approval rating on RottenTomatoes.com, which could help build interest in other remakes. Disney has the opportunity to significantly surpass the film's box office total with 2017's Beauty and the Beast and the upcoming Mulan if the films again turn out to be high-quality and marketing efforts deliver.
"Mulan" hits the right cultural notes
Leading up to the release of Cinderella, some of the big questions regarding the film's performance were whether or not audiences would go for a faithful adaptation of a well-worn story, and whether the eponymous princess would appeal to audiences captivated by the more modern-styled heroines of The Hunger Games and Frozen. While these factors didn't prevent Disney's most recently released remake from succeeding, the more action-oriented animated source material and feisty heroin of the upcoming Mulan remake lend even greater potential for blockbuster performance.
The Chinese box office is still growing
The original Mulan film was based on a Chinese poem that detailed the exploits of a young woman who pretended to be a man in order to join the country's army. How faithful the remake will be to the original film is unclear, but the basic story and setting put the film in position for strong performance in China. The Chinese film industry is still posting double-digit annual growth, and Disney has the opportunity to put together a diverse cast that will also appeal to other territories.
Viacom's 2014 actioner Transformers: Age of Extinction became the first Hollywood blockbuster to perform better in China than stateside, tallying up more than $1 billion internationally. The film's Chinese performance was bolstered by the presence of national stars, and it also received great distribution thanks to scenes being filmed within the country and a co-production deal with a local company. Disney is currently working to improve its presence in China, partnering with Shanghai Media Group to facilitate co-productions and unlock box office potential.
$1 billion ain't what it used to be
Given ongoing growth in China and other territories, it's likely that hitting the $1 billion box office mark won't be nearly as impressive by the time Mulan releases. BoxOfficeMojo.com lists just 19 films at more than $1 billion in international ticket sales, but 2015 is sure to elevate that total substantially. This year's Furious 7, Jurassic World, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, Spectre, Inside Out, and Minions all have at least plausible paths to breaking the billion-dollar barrier, and subsequent years are similarly stacked with sure-to-be massive performers.
So, as Disney's position in China strengthens and international markets continue to grow, the new Mulan has a surprisingly good chance of securing a spot in the rapidly expanding billion-dollar pantheon.
Keith Noonan has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.