Last week, AMC Theatres announced that they will no longer be playing any of Universal Pictures’ films in response to the comments made by NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell regarding the on-demand success of Trolls: World Tour and what it means for the future of seeing movies post-coronavirus pandemic.
In a recent article published by the Hollywood Reporter, it is stated that earlier that day Universal had revealed that Trolls: World Tour had made an estimated $100 million in premium VOD rentals in its first three weeks in North America. Universal sent the animated family film straight to PVOD amid the ongoing pandemic and widespread theater closures.
“The results for Trolls World Tour have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD,” Shell told The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the numbers. “As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.”
In a strongly worded letter to Universal Filmed Entertainment Group chairman Donna Langley, AMC Theatres chairman and-CEO Adam Aron said Shell’s comments were unacceptable. AMC is one of the largest circuits in the world.
“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 theaters in the United States, Europe or the Middle East,” Aron wrote.
“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,” he continued. “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.”
According to the Hollywood Reporter, Cinema owners have said they understand why some movies may need to go straight to home entertainment, but Shell’s comments struck a nerve. “Universal has taken the first step toward changing the paradigm,” says a studio executive at another company, noting that film distributors have wanted to test early PVOD for years.
Universal — like the other major Hollywood studios — has delayed its event films so that they can have a theatrical release, including 59 and the next Minions. Trolls World Tour, along with Warner Bros.’ Scoob! and Disney’s Artemis Fowl, are exceptions. The current plan is that theaters will be open by July 17, in time for Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, followed by Mulan on July 24 and Wonder Woman 1984 in mid-August.