Who would have thought that Trolls World Tour would change the movie business — possibly forever?

This otherwise unassuming sequel to the colorful animated movie has, at least for the moment, turned the film business upside down. First, Universal Pictures made the bold decision to forego the film’s theatrical release; instead, they pushed the movie straight to VOD, where families trapped at home because of the coronavirus pandemic rented the movie in record numbers.

Initially, Universal said this release was strictly a short-term solution during the pandemic. But an article this week in the Wall Street Journal about Trolls World Tour’s success outside of theaters quoted Universal’s Jeff Shell saying “The results for Trolls World Tour have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD ... as soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.”

That, apparently, was the last straw for AMC Theatres, the country’s largest theater chain. In an open letter to Universal, AMC CEO Adam Aron wrote:

This radical change by Universal to the business model that currently exists between our two companies represents nothing but downside for us and is categorically unacceptable to AMC Entertainment, the worlds largest collection of movie theatres. Going forward, AMC will not license any Universal movies in any of our 1,000 theatres globally on these terms.

(They bolded that part, not me.)

Universal has already responded with a statement of its own, writing that “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 ... We absolutely believe in the theatrical experience and have made no statement to the contrary. As we stated earlier, going forward, we expect to release future films directly to theatres, as well as on PVOD when that distribution outlet makes sense.”

A lot of this tough talk is just that — while theaters are legally allowed to reopen in a few states at the moment, AMC has already said they’re not planning to invite customers back until Hollywood (minus Universal, I guess) begins releasing movies regularly again, which looks like mid-July at the earliest. Universal doesn’t have any movies scheduled until September 25, when their reboot of Candyman is due in theaters. A lot could change between then and now — especially if theaters don’t reopen in July and more big movies head to VOD. And, again, all of this started because of Trolls World Tour, the most important movie in a generation, apparently.

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