Photo: The Canadian press
NEW YORK – The most controversial film of the year is … “Trolls World Tour”?
As harmless as the rainbow-colored animated film may seem, the digital release of the sequel to the “Trolls” has caused a storm in the film industry. Just as the pandemic worsened and movie theaters collapsed, Universal Pictures changed the output of the film to video on demand, causing a charge directly through the theatrical window.
Universal calls the digital release of “Trolls World Tour” a success and suggests that this could be the start of a radical change in the way movies are released. Theater owners strongly disagree. AMC Theaters, the largest channel in the United States, has declared a total war, saying that it will no longer broadcast Universal films.
While few anticipated a skirmish on a glitter explosion like “Trolls World Tour”, it took a long time to arrive. Netflix, Amazon and other streaming services have broken the traditional theatrical window of the industry in the last 72 to 90 days (and have therefore excluded their films from the big theater chains), and the big studios have sometimes been tempted to try their own luck and head straight to the houses.
NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell told the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that the digital output of “Trolls World Tour” had gone well enough to demonstrate the viability of direct outputs. He promised that even after the cinemas reopened, “we plan to release films in both formats. “
The Journal reported that in three weeks of rental demand of $ 20, “Trolls World Tour” grossed approximately $ 95 million. The studio, which normally divides sales approximately in half with cinemas, has pocketed approximately $ 75 million. A spokesperson for Universal did not dispute these figures.
By comparison, the 2016 Trolls grossed $ 116 million in the United States and Canada and $ 346.9 million worldwide. The sequel cost approximately $ 90 million to produce, not to mention marketing costs that likely exceeded $ 50 million.
Whether this performance was a “hit” or simply an intriguing experience of the pandemic era has been the subject of much debate. Under home stay orders, moviegoers in the country are locked out. “Trolls World Tour” benefited from the first release of this type during the crisis. And even in these extreme circumstances, he did much less than the original film. Rentals may also have absorbed other sources of “downstream” home entertainment revenue.
“Universal has no reason to use unusual circumstances in an unprecedented environment as a springboard to bypass real theatrical releases,” said John Fithian, President and CEO of the National Association of Theater Owners. He praised the irreplaceable “beloved immersive and shared experience” of seeing a movie in a theater, adding that many families would have flocked to “Trolls” if “the world had not been confined to his home”.
AMC Theaters went further. CEO Adam Aron said his company would cut ties with Universal, effective Tuesday. He insisted that the policy would continue after the reopening of cinemas, apply to theaters worldwide and “is not a hollow or thoughtless threat.”
Aron said AMC would do the same for any distributor who “unilaterally abandons current windowing practices in the absence of good faith negotiations between us.”
He said in the absence of new discussions, “Decades of incredibly successful business have unfortunately come to an end. “
Universal said Tuesday evening that it was disappointed with CMA and NATO statements.
“We absolutely believe in the theatrical experience and have made no claims to the contrary,” said Universal, adding that he would consider video-on-demand “when this distribution point makes sense.”
Universal was bolder than the other studios. A day earlier, Universal announced that it would direct another upcoming release, the on-demand comedy by Judd Apatow “The King of Staten Island”. He also quickly released films like “The Hunt” and “Emma,” which hit theaters just before closing.
But the studio is not the only one to experiment.
Warner Bros will make the Scooby-Doo movie “Scoob! Available for digital rental next month instead of waiting for theaters to open. The Walt Disney Co. directs “Artemis Fowl” to its Disney Plus streaming service. Other studios have simply sold movies to streaming services. Netflix acquired the Paramount Pictures comedy “Lovebirds”, when scheduled for theatrical release in the spring.
Even the Academy of Cinema Arts and Sciences has been forced to adopt streaming. On Tuesday, he announced that he would allow films without theatrical release – long a burning issue for the Oscars – to participate in next year’s Oscars.
Meanwhile, the theater chains are grappling with the losses suffered by an indefinite closure. AMC made an offer of $ 500 million in debt earlier this month to stay afloat. It has enabled 26,000 employees as well as executives, including Aron.
But it remains to be seen whether the demand is a replacement at the box office or simply a useful dressing in unprecedented times. Could a more expensive film make up for $ 500 million at the box office? Or $ 1 billion? For now, only the likes of “Trolls”, “Scoob! “And” Artemis Fowl “test the waters. The biggest films, including the Disney-Marvel release “Black Widow”, the James Bond episode “No Time to Die” and “Wonder Woman 1984”, are waiting for it.
Also outstanding: Universal’s “F9”, which has gone from this summer to next year. The other nine films in the “Fast & Furious” franchise have collectively grossed nearly $ 6 billion at the world box office.