The two biggest US theater chains have banned Universal movies because of Trolls World Tour

Regal Cinemas owner Cineworld has joined AMC Theaters in declaring that it will not show Universal movies — or films from any other studios that “fail to respect” the theatrical window.

The decision comes after Universal touted the success of Trolls World Tour’s straight-to-digital release. Yesterday, AMC Theaters decided to bar Universal movies because of comments made by NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell, arguing that Universal didn’t take theater chains into consideration when it made the decision to go direct to consumer. The ban extends to Odeon Cinemas, which is an AMC company, in the United Kingdom. Other partners “called us in timely manner and told us that in the current situation they want to shorten window for movies that were already released as cinemas are closing,” Mooky Greidinger, Cineworld’s CEO, said in a press release obtained by The Wrap.

Most importantly, they all reassured us that there will be no change to their window policy once the cinema business returned,” Greidinger added. “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.”

Universal has responded to the complaints by reiterating its commitment to the theatrical model, noting the company’s executives were “disappointed by this seemingly coordinated attempt” by theater chains and the National Association of Theater Owners to blackball Universal. Going forward, Universal plans to use both theatrical release and direct-to-consumer distribution models depending on what makes more sense for the company and audiences.

“Based on the enthusiastic response to the film, we believe we made the right move,” the company said in a press release sent out last night. “We absolutely believe in the theatrical experience and have made no statement to the contrary.”

Despite Cineworld and AMC’s focus on Universal, it’s not the only studio to bypass the theatrical model for a direct-to-consumer release. Warner Bros. is moving its animated movie, Scoob, to a video on demand release before moving it over to its upcoming streaming service, HBO Max. Disney has moved Artemis Fowl from a theatrical release to a Disney Plus exclusive.

Two of the biggest theater chains coming together to announce they won’t carry movies from one of the biggest studios in the world is an impressive force, but the threats carry little weight. Both Cineworld and AMC Theaters are struggling with declining attendance and will need the ticket sales from upcoming blockbusters.

Blockbuster movies still stand to make huge sums at the box office, and it’s unlikely theaters will want to miss out once their doors are open again. One of 2021’s biggest movies is likely to be F9, the ninth installment in the Fast and Furious franchise, followed by the third installment of the Jurassic World franchise, due out in 2022. They’re both Universal films and are likely to amass around $1 billion in box-office revenue, making it extremely unlikely that major theater chains wouldn’t carry them. And while Disney is moving Artemis Fowl to Disney Plus, it’s delaying bigger films like Wonder Woman 1984 and Mulan so they can have a theatrical run.

It almost feels like a game of chicken: the theater chains want to take a stand against the direct-to-consumer shift they’re seeing play out — one that will only get bigger as more streaming services from studios launch in the coming months — and the studios want to lessen the restraints that come with a typical theatrical window.

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