Movie theaters became some of the first to shut their doors when the coronavirus broke out. Now, movie studios like Universal Pictures have started to skip the theaters entirely and go straight to video-on-demand and streaming with their new movies, like Trolls: World Tour. Now, companies AMC Theaters and Regal Cinemas have retaliated by boycotting Universal! The theaters might be closed, but they are still full of drama.
Universal Pictures Breaks The Mold
In the wake of COVID-19, Universal’s choice to release straight to video-on-demand and streaming has worked out well. At first, they only started by releasing films already in theaters, like the hit Invisible Man remake, starring Elisabeth Moss (seen above, right), and the comedy-horror The Hunt. Both did well, but as many had already seen the films in theaters pre-coronavirus, they did not make any waves.
So, Universal decided to release Trolls: World Tour, a film not yet released to theaters. Afterward, the movie did incredibly well. In fact, experts say that Trolls: World Tour did better by skipping theaters than it ever would have in theaters, opening to a reported $50 million weekend. As of this writing, with over $160 million in rentals, it is close to making more than the original Trolls!
“The results for Trolls: World Tour have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of (premium video on demand),” NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said. “As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats [simultaneously].” That’s right, moving forward, Universal movies will be available for rent the same day they premiere in theaters! Unfortunately, not everyone is happy with Trolls’ success…
AMC Theaters Responds
After Universal’s announcement, AMC Theaters CEO and President Adam Aron wasted no time blasting Universal. “It is disappointing to us, but Jeff’s comments as to Universal’s unilateral actions and intentions have left us with no choice,” Aron wrote in an open letter. “Therefore, effectively immediately AMC will no longer play any Universal movies in any of our theaters in the United States, Europe, or the Middle East. This policy … goes into effect today and as our theaters reopen, and is not some hollow or ill-considered threat.”
Not long after, Regal Cinemas also agreed to boycott all Universal movies until they stop skipping theaters. While AMC and Regal say that they understand releasing these movies during the crisis, they are worried that disregarding the traditional theatrical release windows will lead to the obliteration of movie theaters in a post-coronavirus world. Even worse, the companies accuse Universal of being opportunistic. AMC and Regal say that Universal has always wanted this to make more money, and they are merely using the lockdown as an opportunity to eliminate theaters once and for all.
The National Association of Theater Owners took part in discussions as well, saying that Trolls: World Tour‘s incredible result shouldn’t be treated as the new normal. “Universal does not have reason to use unusual circumstances in an unprecedented environment as a springboard to bypass true theatrical releases,” NATO President and CEO John Fithian commented. “Theaters provide a beloved immersive, shared experience that cannot be replicated – an experience that many of the VOD viewers of this film would have participated in had the world not been sequestered at home, desperate for something new to watch with their families.”
Universal ended up responding to both, saying that they do not intend to change course. So, unless something radically changes, expect to miss Universal films at your local cinemas for the foreseeable future…