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Update: With Movie Theaters Struggling, AMC Gets Into a Pissing Match with Universal (Regal Has Now Joined AMC)

By Dustin Rowles | Film | April 29, 2020 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | April 29, 2020 |


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Update: Regal Theaters has joined AMC is refusing to screen Universal films in the future, including F9, as well as the next Minions movie and Jurassic World film.

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There has been a long-running dispute between movie theater chains and movie studios over theatrical windows — that period of time between when a movie is released into theaters and when it is made available for home viewing. The average theatrical window has been shrinking for years, and now averages around 90 days. Or it did, until the world was rocked by a pandemic. Movies like Invisible Man and The Way Back jumped almost directly from theaters and onto VOD, while the window for other movies — like Sonic the Hedgehog — was shortened.

That’s OK given the environment in which we live — and the fact that movie theaters can’t screen films right now anyway — but the theater industry is obviously wary of any short-term changes during a pandemic that might affect them long-term when it’s over.

Enter Trolls World Tour. Skipping its theatrical release and debuting on VOD for a $20 rental fee three weeks ago, the Dreamworks Pictures has now amassed a whopping $100 million in revenue. The original Trolls, meanwhile, earned $150 million over its entire run and had to share some of that money with theaters. Universal, which owns Dreamworks, is probably thinking, “Hmmmm. Why don’t we skip theaters more often?!”

In fact, that’s exactly what Univeral’s chief Jeff Shell is thinking. As he told The Wall Street Journal, as “soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.”

AMC Theaters, however, did not appreciate the sentiment. “It is disappointing to us, but Jeff’s comments as to Universal’s unilateral actions and intentions have left us with no choice,” AMC Theatres chair-CEO Adam Aron wrote. “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.”

Well, this is a dumb pissing match. Universal, I’m sure, believes that it has the movie theater industry over a barrel — and it does, sort of — but let me tell you something: A movie like Trolls World Tour (which is terrible, by the way, so much so that even my daughter gave it “one thumbs up and one thumbs down” in a second-grade review assignment) is not going to earn $100 million on VOD during normal times. Parents spent $20 on it because we were desperate for something that might occupy our children for a couple of hours and because we have stopped thinking rationally. Granted, $20 was also much, much less money than most families spend to take their kids to the movie once movie tickets and concessions are accounted for, so the price point was appreciated.

I’m sure that the VOD market is somewhat lucrative, but there’s a reason that Trolls World Tour broke all the records for VOD revenue, and it’s not because the movie was good. Once theaters re-open, Universal doesn’t have as much leverage as it believes, particularly because it looks like AMC Theaters is serious about this threat.

“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.”

This is not good for Universal, which has movies like Fast & Furious 9 in the pipeline. But you know who else it’s not good for? AMC Theaters, which would lose a lot of huge movies and lots of revenue opportunities. Is AMC Theaters really going to let Regal Theaters be the exclusive home in most towns and cities for the Jurassic Park sequels? I don’t think so.

Ultimately, this is probably all bluster, and some of this will go away when the pandemic goes away. On the other hand, I do think that more adult-targeted films and comedies — like Judd Apatow’s King of Staten Island — will end up debuting on VOD after this is over. The pandemic may end up normalizing VOD debuts for more than just smaller, indie flicks, but any movie that cost less than $50 million to make. However, in order to pull it off, studios are going to need to market their VOD premieres better than they have, up until the last six weeks.




Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.



Header Image Source: Universal