While The Walking Dead fans were sad to see Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes leave the show, they at least have a movie trilogy spinoff about the character to look forward to. These were originally planned to air on AMC as a TV special, but in 2019 it was revealed that they’d upgraded them to full theatrical releases. However, that now may never happen and the reason, as anyone who pays attention to movie news will have guessed, is AMC’s beef with Universal’s release policies during the Coronavirus outbreak.
With theaters having to close across the nation to curb the spread of the virus, Universal chose to release some of their hottest films on VOD. Some, like The Hunt and The Invisible Man, had brief theatrical releases before hitting VOD very early. Presumably, AMC wasn’t particularly happy about that, but with their doors chained, they had to put up with it.
The situation hit boiling point though with Trolls World Tour. This bypassed the still-closed theaters almost entirely (there were some international theatrical releases) and went straight to VOD. The cherry on top of the whole affair was Universal putting out a statement crowing about how much they’d made from bypassing cinemas.
AMC Entertainment quickly released a statement of their own, strongly criticizing Universal Pictures for breaking the rules of theatrical release windows (and Regal soon followed suit). As a result, these chains will no longer be screening any upcoming releases by Universal Pictures. This includes Fast & Furious 9, No Time to Die, Jurassic Park Dominion and, yes, The Walking Dead.
This is a conflict with a lot of money on the table. The financially beleaguered AMC needs Universal’s guaranteed box office draws and while Universal doesn’t need AMC quite as much, the ‘event’ status and box office totals of their movies would be seriously diminished if they didn’t screen in the biggest cinema chain in the country.
I suspect that the entertainment industry will be very different once we’re through Coronavirus. Even when the lockdowns are lifted, it’s difficult to imagine people crowding together in enclosed spaces for a while, to say nothing of rules that may mandate half-capacity in cinemas. All this may mean that the future isn’t bright for the theatrical experience in both the short and long term. The industry was already running on a financial knife-edge, so Coronavirus could kill off some of the major chains for good.