The movie industry is going through tough times right now. Coronavirus has impacted almost every corner of the market, whether it be studios having to shut down production of upcoming blockbusters, release dates being postponed or simply future plans being torn up and rewritten.
Of course, movie theaters have been hit particularly hard. As lockdowns have forced their closure, they now have no income. On top of that, studios have begun releasing major films digitally on release day, which has long been a fear of the theater chains.
Things came to a head when Universal brought Trolls World Tour to VOD on what would have been its theatrical release date, an experiment which they trumpeted as a big success. AMC saw red, claiming that until Universal ‘respect the window,’ they will no longer screen their movies. Cineworld, who run Regal Cinemas, also expressed their anger and released a statement that said:
“Universal’s move is completely inappropriate and certainly has nothing to do with good faith business practice, partnership and transparency.”
Regal went on to apparently join AMC in refusing to screen Universal’s pics. However, it seems they could have been a little more precise in their language, as they’ve had to put out another statement clarifying that they’re not specifically boycotting Universal, but rather, individual films that release early on VOD.
Here’s how they put it:
“Regal is not boycotting Universal nor any other studio. We will continue our normal policy and play movies that respect the theatrical window, allowing movies to be released first in theatres prior to streaming or VOD platforms.”
If Universal’s movies are indeed releasing on VOD earlier than usual, this policy would result in a de facto boycott anyway, so this is splitting hairs a bit. But Regal’s decision may prove to be a disaster for rivals AMC. After all, if AMC are the only theater chain not showing, say, Fast & Furious 9, then audiences are simply going to go to their competitors instead.
As far as I see it, the only way the theater chains can force Universal‘s hand is to present a united front on this and agree on an industry-wide boycott of their movies. If they’re not prepared to work together, then their worst nightmare of simultaneous theatrical and VOD release will happen sooner rather than later.