A few weeks ago, Universal very proudly boasted that Trolls World Tour’s digital launch—necessitated by all theaters being closed because of the coronavirus—was a wild success, with it being the biggest debut for any digitally released movie. As we noted at the time, that metric doesn’t necessarily mean anything, because Universal neglected to actually say how many people had paid for the $20 rental or how much money it actually made. Also, it didn’t exactly have any competition, since it was one of the few virus-displaced theatrical movies to make the jump to on-demand services that was family-friendly (much as kids would love Bloodshot).
Now, Universal has brought the receipts to prove that Trolls World Tour is a success, with The Wall Street Journal saying it has made “nearly $100 million” in rentals. In fact, the movie was such a big hit that it has inspired Universal to change how it releases movies from now on, with NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell saying, “as soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.” We would hesitate to push such a bold idea, considering that Trolls World Tour is a family-friendly comedy with mass-market appeal that had virtually no competition at the digital box office and came out in the middle of a pandemic that has people desperate for things to do that don’t require going outside, but that’s evidently the lesson that Shell is taking from this and we don’t care enough to argue.
One person who really does care enough to argue, though, is AMC head Adam Aron, who has released a scathing letter to Universal Studios boss Donna Langley in which he declares that his 1,000 theaters across the whole world will no longer “license any Universal movies.” That means, assuming Aron doesn’t back down, that all AMC theaters will no longer screen Universal movies ever. Which is, in a word, bananas.
Aron’s letter goes on to say that, while other studios have been forced to release theatrical movies on digital platforms to account for theaters being closed, Universal is the only one that has publicly stated that it intends to continue that practice even after the pandemic ends. If others join in and decide to make similar changes, then he’ll cut them off as well. For as rash as Aron’s decision may seem, though, he makes some fair points: Universal is “breaking” the existing business model for studios and theaters, and it’s doing it with “zero concern” for what the theaters want and how it might impact them. He also calls Universal out, suggesting that the studio has wanted to start doing this for a long time and is just using the pandemic is an excuse to make it happen.
The whole thing is delightfully spicy for a letter from a theater chain owner to a movie studio, and you can read the whole thing at this Deadline link.