US movie cinema chain AMC Theaters, which owns the UK's Odeon, will refuse to show new movies from Fast and Furious studio Universal when it reopens. The move is in response to the VOD release of Trolls World Tour, which saw Universal skip a planned theater run entirely in favor of an (highly lucrative) on-demand launch during the current lockdown period, netting more than $77 million for Universal.
This is according to THR (opens in new tab), which obtained a letter sent from AMC Theaters to Universal film chairman Donna Langley, promising to stop showing Universal movies in its theaters in the US, Europe and Middle East.
Earlier, NBC Universal CEO Jeff Shell told WSJ (opens in new tab) said that the second Trolls film had "exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD." The 'P' there stands for 'premium', since Trolls World Tour was a $19.99 rental. He continued. "As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats." Almost five million people rented the movie.
That's important context for AMC's strongly-worded reaction.
"It is disappointing to us, but Jeff’s comments as to Universal's unilateral actions and intentions have left us with no choice," wrote AMC Theaters' chair-CEO Adam Aron in a 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 affects any and all Universal movies per se, goes into effect today and as our theaters reopen, and is not some hollow or ill-considered threat."
The issue here is the traditional 'window' between a theatrical release and home video, which is around 75 days. That's changed in recent times as movies like The Invisible Man, Emma and Pixar's Onward has arrived on home video. Those movies, though, did release in theaters before the health crisis led to a lockdown. Trolls went straight to VOD.
Universal responded to AMC's letter. "We absolutely believe in the theatrical experience and have made no statement to the contrary. As we stated earlier, going forward, we expect to release future films directly to theaters, as well as on PVOD when that distribution outlet makes sense."
- How to watch Trolls World Tour online
- How to watch The Invisible Man
- How to watch the Fast and Furious movies in order
What this all means
All this, over Trolls World Tour.
Cinemas face significant challenges ahead in an age of social distancing, and it's easy to see why they're so protective over the traditional release window between studios and theaters. What long-term effects this move will have, though, remain to be seen.
Universal won't skip the theatrical release window for its biggest movies, as it's too lucrative to miss out on the box office. Both Minions: The Rise of Gru and Fast & Furious 9 were delayed until 2021 over the current crisis too.