Update: Cineworld (which owns Regal Cinemas) has also released a statement saying that they “will not be showing movies that fail to respect the windows as it does not make any economic sense for us.” That doesn’t sound like they will be boycotting all Universal movies, but certainly anything that debuts day and date on VOD.
With the closure of movie theatres around the world continuing to be a major setback for Hollywood, many studios have opted to release movies on digital platforms early or in place of a theatrical release altogether. The studio that has made the biggest moves in this area so far is Universal, having released movies like The Invisible Man and The Hunt on VOD almost immediately and then opting for a VOD-only release for Trolls World Tour. They also just announced that Judd Apatow’s upcoming comedy The King of Staten Island will debut digitally as well. This week, after NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell opened up to The Wall Street Journal about the success of Trolls World Tour (which made $100 million in its first three weeks) and their plans to do more direct to VOD releases, the biggest theatre chain in the U.S. is now fighting to keep them in line. Here is an excerpt from a letter sent from AMC Theatres chair-CEO Adam Aron to Universal Filmed Entertainment Group chairman Donna Langley:
“It is disappointing to us, but Jeff’s comments as to Universal’s unilateral actions and intentions have left us with no choice. Therefore, effectively immediately AMC will no longer play any Universal movies in any of our theatres in the United States, Europe or the Middle East. This policy affects any and all Universal movies per se, goes into effect today and as our theatres reopen, and is not some hollow or ill-considered threat. Incidentally, this policy is not aimed solely at Universal out of pique or to be punitive in any way, it also extends to any movie maker who unilaterally abandons current windowing practices absent good faith negotiations between us, so that they as distributor and we as exhibitor both benefit and neither are hurt from such changes. Currently, with the press comment today, Universal is the only studio contemplating a wholesale change to the status quo. Hence, this immediate communication in response.”
The statement comes at a time when AMC has been rumoured to be on the verge of bankruptcy as a result of the coronavirus shutdown. Universal has since responded, saying that they “absolutely believe in the theatrical experience and have made no statement to the contrary.” It is unclear if the proposed AMC ban will remain in place or if the two sides will continue to work through their grievances.
It is pretty clear that the Trolls World Tour experiment has proven the viability of VOD as an option for major releases, so it makes sense that theatre owners would be worried. That being said, it doesn’t seem likely to kill moviegoing, only to accelerate the current trend of small to mid-range films going direct to digital platforms. Do you think AMC is smart to fight back in this way or are they overreacting?