Universal’s decision to send Trolls: World Tour straight to VOD has sparked a world war between the studio and the country’s largest movie theater chain, AMC. Update: Regal Entertainment, the second largest theater chain in the US, says it is joining AMC in its boycott of Universal.
Earlier on Tuesday, Universal revealed that its Trolls sequel grossed over $100 million in VOD sales during its first three weeks of release. Obviously much of that was due to the fact that families are stuck at home in quarantine, looking for any way to pass the hours. Nevertheless, in its celebratory announcement, Universal seemed to imply that the film’s commercial success was proof that VOD was the way of the future.
“The results for Trolls World Tour have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD,” NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell was quoted as telling The Wall Street Journal. “As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.”
The comments didn’t sit well with AMC, which is already reeling from a global pandemic that has shuttered theaters across the country. In a strongly worded rebuke released Tuesday evening, AMC announced it would cease screening Universal productions going forward.
“Effectively immediately AMC will no longer play any Universal movies in any of our theaters in the United States, Europe or the Middle East,” AMC Theatres CEO Adam Aron said in his statement. “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.”
“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,” Aron added. “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.”
Realizing the repercussions of, well, a universal blackout at AMC Theatres, Universal Studios has since sought to clarify its position. “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,” the statement adds. “We look forward to having additional private conversations with our exhibition partners but are disappointed by this seemingly coordinated attempt from AMC and NATO to confuse our position and our actions.”
“Our goal in releasing Trolls: World Tour on PVOD was to deliver entertainment to people who are sheltering at home, while movie theatres and other forms of outside entertainment are unavailable. Based on the enthusiastic response to the film, we believe we made the right move.”
On Wednesday, Regal Entertainment, the second largest theater chain in the US, said it would be joining AMC in its boycott of Universal. “Today we make it clear again that we will not be showing movies that fail to respect the windows as it does not make any economic sense for us,” Regal owner Cineworld Group said in a statement to Deadline.
“Cineworld’s policy with respect to the window is clear, well known in the industry and is part of our commercial deal with our movie suppliers. We invest heavily in our cinemas across the globe and this allows the movie studios to provide customers all around the world to watch the movies in the best experience. There is no argument that the big screen is the best way to watch a movie,” according to the statement.
“Universal unilaterally chose to break our understanding and did so at the height of the Covid-19 crisis when our business is closed, more than 35,000 employees are at home and when we do not yet have a clear date for the reopening of our cinemas.”
Wait until AMC and Regal learn that films no longer have to screen at theaters in order to be eligible for the 2020 Academy Awards.