The owner of Odeon cinemas has vowed that the chain will no longer screen films distributed by the Universal after it broke ranks and released the new Trolls movie to streaming platforms.
Due to cinemas remaining shuttered because of the coronavirus pandemic, Universal made Trolls: World Tour available to on-demand services on 10 April, when it was scheduled for release in cinemas.
It also released the movies Emma, The Invisible Man and The Hunt early too, although those has enjoyed brief theatrical runs before cinemas were closed.
It’s been reported that Universal has made nearly $100m from Trolls: World Tour alone, making it the biggest digital release debut ever, but the move has not gone down well with cinema chains.
Now Adam Aron, the boss of AMC, which owns Odeon, said that it will axe Universal films entirely from all its sites globally – which would include the Fast & Furious and Jurassic World franchises.
Universal is also the UK distributor for the new Bond movie, No Time To Die, due out in November.
Aron added that the move was 'not some hollow or ill-considered threat', and it will follow through on it once cinemas reopen.
Cinemas are generally given a 90-day window for theatrical releases before movies then head to digital rental.
In a public letter to the chairwoman of Universal, Donna Langley, Aron said: “Accordingly, we want to be absolutely clear, so that there is no ambiguity of any kind. AMC believes that with this proposed action to go to the home and theatres simultaneously, Universal is breaking the business model and dealings between our two companies.
“It assumes that we will meekly accept a reshaped view of how studios and exhibitors should interact, with zero concern on Universal’s part as to how its actions affect us.
“It also presumes that Universal in fact can have its cake and eat it too, that Universal film product can be released to the home and theatres at the same time, without modification to the current economic arrangements between us.
"Going forward, AMC will not license any Universal movies in any of our 1,000 theatres globally on these terms."
In response, Universal said that it 'absolutely believes in the theatrical experience and 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,” it added.
“We look forward to having additional private conversations with our exhibition partners but are disappointed by this seemingly coordinated attempt from AMC and NATO (National Association Of Theatre Owners) to confuse our position and our actions.”
NATO has said that the studio had made a 'reckless charge', adding that it had displayed 'a destructive tendency to both announce decisions affecting their exhibitor partners without actually consulting with those partners'.
Last month, speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, NATO president John Fithian warned that ‘exhibitors will not forget this’.