“Trolls World Tour” upended that longstanding precedent.
“It was the first experiment during the pandemic of sending a film made for theaters directly to the home. That, in itself, is very significant,” Shawn Robbins, chief analyst of Boxoffice.com, told CNN Business. “It set the tone for how movies would be released during the pandemic.”
As the health crisis dragged on, other studios followed Universal’s lead. Warner Bros. released “Scoob!,” a Scooby Doo animated film,” on digital, and Disney () launched its much anticipated big budget live-action remake of “Mulan” on Disney+, albeit for an extra fee.
“We’re all trying to figure out what the new normal is as these trends that we were seeing in the industry before the pandemic have now really come home to roost,” Langley said.
After the “Trolls World Tour” digital release, everything remained copacetic between Universal and theaters. The film found an audience on-demand, and theaters had larger problems just keeping their marquees lit.
It was your standard Hollywood happy ending — until the “Trolls'” numbers came out.
A new model
If you said last year that the world’s biggest theater chain would ban one of Hollywood’s biggest studios, no one would have believed you. If you said that the spat was over “Trolls World Tour,” industry insiders would have recommended seeking professional help.
But that’s exactly what happened.
In April, CEO Adam Aron announced that AMC () Theatres would no longer be showing Universal’s films. In a letter to Langley, he said that the decision was triggered by a quote in the Wall Street Journal from NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell revealing that based on the success of “Trolls World Tour” his studio expected to “release movies on both formats.” The sequel earned nearly $100 million in rental fees domestically in its first three weeks.
AMC’s threat wasn’t likely to hold, given the symbiotic relationship between the companies: AMC is the top movie theater company and Universal is the home of global blockbusters such as “Furious 7,” “Jurassic World” and “Minions.”
But the momentary rift led to a landmark deal that potentially created a new theatrical model for all of Hollywood.