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AMC Refuses to Play Universal’s Films After ‘Trolls World Tour’ Digital Premiere Causes Rift

Stephanie Sengwe

Yesterday, reports came out stating that the success of the “Trolls World Tour” digital release had NBCUniversal considering early digital release as a new mode of movie distribution. Following the precedent set with the animated film, the studio also revealed plans to employ the same release strategy for “The King of Staten Island,” a new comedy directed by Judd Apatow, which was scheduled to hit theaters on June 19.

“The results for ‘Trolls World Tour’ have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD,” Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal told the Wall Street Journal. “As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.”

Well, the execs at AMC did not take kindly to Shell’s decision as they have opted out of screening any of Universal’s films, effective immediately. Before the coronavirus took hold, movies were mandated to be in theaters for at least 90 days before they hit streaming services. However, the successes of “Trolls World Tour,” as well as other films such as Netflix’s “The Irishman” and “Marriage Story,” have revealed that the model may be flawed.

But for AMC Theatres chairman-CEO Adam Aron, the prospect of breaking the 90-day window is unacceptable. In a strongly worded letter to Universal Filmed Entertainment Group chairman Donna Langley, he stated, “It is disappointing to us, but Jeff’s comments as to Universal’s unilateral actions and intentions have left us with no choice. Therefore, effectively immediately AMC will no longer play any Universal movies in any of our theaters in the United States, Europe or the Middle East.”

Aron continued: “Universal’s unilateral pronouncements on this issue are unpalatable to us, as has always been the case, AMC is willing to sit down with Universal to discuss different windows strategies and different economic models between your company and ours. However, in the absence of such discussions, and an acceptable conclusion thereto, our decades of incredibly successful business activity together has sadly come to an end.”

For their part, Universal Pictures believes they made and will be making the decision that makes the most sense. A rep for the company responded, “Our goal in releasing ‘Trolls: World Tour’ on PVOD was to deliver entertainment to people who are sheltering at home, while movie theatres and other forms of outside entertainment are unavailable. Based on the enthusiastic response to the film, we believe we made the right move. In fact, given the choice of not releasing ‘Trolls: World Tour,’ which would not only have prevented consumers from experiencing the movie but also negatively impacted our partners and employees, the decision was clear.”

According to Variety, if the two companies don’t come to an agreement, they miss the opportunity to profit from the release of blockbusters such as “F9,” the latest installment in the “Fast & Furious” franchise, “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” “Sing 2,” and “Jurassic World: Dominion,” slated to come out next year.

Other movie theater chains are also chiming in on the issue. Deadline reported that Regal Entertainment owner Cineworld Group has said they “will not be showing movies that fail to respect the windows.”