AMC Bans Universal Movies After Success of Trolls World Tour


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?

  • travis

    At least for me locally, AMC abandoned good theater practices long ago. It’s like they thought putting in reclining seats is all anyone was really looking for in their movie going experience. Half of their projectors are crap, the speakers are all garbled and broken from years of having them turned up too loud and haven’t been replaced, and the popcorn is so cheap and gross but costs $550 for a regular. So I have a hard time feeling any sympathy for them in this situation. Guess what AMC? Universal found a way to make some extra money. Maybe you could too. Start by improving the quality of the equipment in your theaters that actually play the films. You can give me the most comfortable throne in the world, but I’m not going to sit in it to stare at a steaming pile of shit for 2 hours.

  • Skewed_View

    I stopped going to AMC theaters a few years ago because I always hated the experience. Cinemark, on the other hand, has really made a bunch of improvements to their locations (in my area at least), and they’re still almost always cheaper to go to than any of the AMCs nearby.

  • Deven Science

    I have a Cinemark membership, and go there almost exclusively, other than the occasional trip to the locally owned independent theater.

  • My AMC is pretty good in terms of infrastructure, but outside of the Dolby theater, which is too expensive for anybody that doesn’t actively want to be there, it has the same audience problems all theaters do. Still, I think they’re decent as far as theater chains go, and love their A-List service, which is a helluva deal.

    At the same time, they have GOT to get real about this pandemic. You’re closed, bozos, that’s not NBCUniversal or any other studio’s fault. It’s not good for anybody to be sitting on in-the-can movies, especially ones that studio’s have already dumped marketing money into–AMC and other chains would prefer studio’s to eat the hundreds of millions of dollars of advertising that, in the absence of VOD releases, will have been wasted.

    Honestly, before they offered A-List, I was kind of hoping VOD would just become the standard. Now, I’m more in theaters’ corner, but it’s insane to attempt to punish studio’s for trying to make the best out of a bad situation. It’s like wandering in a post-apocalyptic wasteland and being pissed because someone on the other side of an impassable desert is digging a well.

  • Jonny Ashley

    sounds like a pretty stœpid business move