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Opinion: Movie theaters are banning Universal films, but what does it mean for the industry?

by Connor Webber

As I am sure you have already heard, with the current situation of the world, statements have been made about the future of movie theaters and how films should initially be released. To be specific, I’m talking about the current feud happening between Universal Pictures and two of the biggest movie theater chains: AMC Theatres and Regal Cinemas.

movie theaters

This all started on April 28 when The Wall Street Journal reported that “Trolls World Tour” had made more money in three weeks than the first “Trolls” film did in its five-month theatrical run. NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell stated, “As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.” I took this to be a bold, premature statement from Shell.

Later that day, AMC CEO Adam Aron composed a letter to Universal, which was also posted publicly, stating that “effectively immediately AMC will no longer play any Universal movies in any of our theaters in the United States, Europe or the Middle East.”

The following day, Mooky Greidinger, the CEO of Cineworld, which owns Regal Cinemas, warned Universal as well that Regal Cinemas would also ban movie studios that do not respect the 90-day theatrical window. Now, on April 29, a new statement was released by Regal Cinemas confirming that they will keep their theatrical window as it is, and went as far as saying Universal’s decision is “completely inappropriate and certainly has nothing to do with good faith business practice, partnership and transparency.”

All partners of Regal were said to have contacted the company about shortening the theatrical window as theaters were closing, and these partners reassured Regal that there would be no change in the current release window policy once theaters begin to open back up. Greidinger said, “not only did Universal provide no commitment for the future window — but Universal was the only studio that tried to take advantage of the current crisis and provide a ‘day-and-date’ release of a movie that was not yet released.”

It’s obvious now that this conflict has been brewing for the past month or so, but now that Universal has gone public with their plan to release films both theatrically and on video-on-demand (VOD), Regal and AMC both have taken their views on this public, throwing the media into a frenzy.

For the past few years, the talk of movie theaters going “extinct” has risen with the popularity of streaming services like Netflix and Disney+. Now hearing that the two largest theater chains in the world are blacklisting Universal Pictures makes all this talk of extinction seem more legitimate. On top of that, movie theaters are not considered to be essential businesses, so, as of right now, they are not operating and constantly losing money.

For those of you who don’t know, most of the money made by movie theaters comes from their concessions rather than ticket sales. Theaters only receive a small percentage of the sales, with the rest going to the movie studios. So, when a big studio like Universal Pictures says that they will be simultaneously releasing films theatrically and on VOD, it is stripping away business from theaters and potentially putting more money in the pockets of the studio. Regardless of what the final decision is, this is a lose-lose situation for movie theaters and will become a massive wound in the movie theater industry.

For Universal to immediately come out and say that after the success of “Trolls World Tour,” they plan to release every one of their movies on VOD alongside its theatrical release is incredibly premature. I don’t think they are taking into account the fact that the only reason the film made so much money on-demand is that, for now, everyone is being advised to stay home.

In my opinion, there are certain movies that are meant to be seen on the big screen. Just looking at next year, if this were to go through, massive films like “Fast and Furious 9,” “Jurassic World: Dominion,” and “No Time to Die” would not be showing in the majority of theaters around the world. Regardless of whether you like those franchises or not, they put people in seats and it would be a huge loss in revenue for theaters.

The experience of going to a movie theater is a sacred thing; people used to get dressed up in suits and ties just to go to see a picture. Sure, with the number of theaters around the world now, the standard of this experience has substantially lowered, but it is still an experience you can’t get from the comfort of your couch.

For someone who is a massive fan of film and cinema, who went to the movies over a hundred times in 2018, hearing about this feud is scary. One of my favorite theater experiences of all time, “1917,” directed by Sam Mendes, happens to be a Universal film, and I don’t think it would have had the same impact on me if the first time I saw it was on my television at home.

Ironically, Universal Studios Hollywood’s CityWalk is home to an AMC theater called “Universal Cinema,” which just went through a complete remodel and renovation in 2016. My question is, what will happen to this theater if nothing changes? Will this AMC theater that is on Universal property not show Universal-produced movies? We may have an idea of something that could happen if AMC and Universal truly do decide to go their separate ways. Universal Studios Orlando’s CityWalk also had an AMC theater, but in the fall of 2018, the theater made the switch to Cinemark. So, you could potentially see Hollywood make the same change unless Cinemark decides to join AMC and Regal.

I feel that, as of right now, both sides are being a bit drastic in their decisions. With the current state of the world, I think that we’re going to see a big change in the movie-going experience. More than likely, there are going to be people who just won’t be comfortable with going to a movie theater and sitting directly beside a stranger. With that being said, it would probably be best if we saw a change in the length of the theatrical release window, with the ideal moving from 90 days to 45-60 days. If theater companies made this change, Universal might rethink their decision and come to an agreement.

As of right now, there is no telling on where this whole fiasco will end up, but I hope that common ground can be found that makes both parties happy, as well as continue the movie theater business. I feel that it seemed to be a tame conflict between the two parties that might cause some worry, but after Regal’s most recent statement, it’s clear that this is a topic that will not be going away anytime soon.

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4 comments

Ronnie watkins May 1, 2020 - 7:49 pm

Not good for the movie industry

Reply
Michael Ray Williams May 2, 2020 - 12:02 pm

Well said. I think the biggest thing people aren’t taking in account on all sides this situation is the fact that just about every part of our lives is going to be permanently changed by the current pandemic crisis. Like you said, I agree all of these folks seem to be making statements prematurely, most likely fueled by uncertainty and the anxiety that walks hand in hand with that. Theatres have been on the decline for years. Maybe the change in perspective this situation is affording folks will catalyze some evolution in the industry. I certainly think it would be behoove theatre chains to form real business relationships with indie filmmakers or perhaps even take a stab at their own streaming services.

Reply
Grady T Etheridge May 6, 2020 - 7:22 pm

Movie theater as a hold is changing, if their going to make u seat two seats apart, why even go as a family anymore and if they are going away with free refills on large product, they need to go down on the price.

Reply
Disgruntled July 2, 2020 - 8:07 am

As far as I’m concerned I hope AMC, Regal and the rest all go out of business. Movie theaters have been charging a ridiculous ticket price for decades. Concession prices are robbery plain and simple. With Home theaters more affordable to create good riddance to movie theaters with all of their overpriced wares.

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