AMC Theatres will no longer play Universal films effective immediately after “unacceptable” comments were made from NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell on its decision to bypass a traditional theatrical release for Trolls World Tour and make it a digital exclusive, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
In a new interview with the Wall Street Journal, Jeff Shell noted that Trolls World Tour succeeded their expectations, pulling in nearly $100 million in revenue through digital sales alone and more than five million copies sold.
As a result, Shell noted that as “soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats,” meaning some movies would continue with theatrical releases while others would go directly to digital retailers or possibly land on NBCUniversal’s new streaming service, Peacock. The move led to a lengthy statement from AMC Theatres chair-CEO Adam Aron, who claimed that Shell’s comments were “unacceptable.”
“It is disappointing to us, but Jeff’s comments as to Universal’s unilateral actions and intentions have left us with no choice,” Aron wrote. “Therefore, effectively immediately AMC will no longer play any Universal movies in any of our theatres in the United States, Europe or the Middle East.”
AMC Theatres is the largest cinema chain in the US, and losing access to its theaters is a devastating blow for Universal’s biggest upcoming films, including F9. The ninth installment in the Fast and Furious franchise was delayed from this year until April 2021, when Universal expected to give it a proper theatrical release. F9 is a movie that’s likely to generate close to $1 billion at the global box office, if not more. It seems unlikely that Universal will give up its share of that revenue, but Aron reiterated in his statement this is “not some hollow or ill-considered threat.”
“This policy affects any and all Universal movies per se, goes into effect today and as our theatres reopen, and is not some hollow or ill-considered threat,” Aron continued in his letter. “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.”
Universal isn’t the only studio who’s bypassing theatrical releases for some of its films, but Shell is one of the only executives who is “contemplating a wholesale change to the status quo,” according to Aron. That’s why, despite WarnerMedia and Disney moving Scoob! and Artemis Fowl to streaming and digital exclusives, AMC has not barred them from playing films. Still, both WarnerMedia and Disney heads have made similar comments about looking at their distribution options.
Trolls World Tour’s on-demand success comes at a particularly scary time for movie theaters. Both independent theaters and major chains are staring at dim prospects for the rest of the year. AMC Theaters is currently generating zero revenue right now as theaters across the country remain closed.