Trolls World Tour has become the most controversial movie of the year

Photo credit: Universal
Photo credit: Universal

From Digital Spy

Trolls World Tour is just a colourful and upbeat animated sequel for the family to enjoy, right?


Due to its unique digital release, Trolls World Tour has now become the most controversial movie of 2020, unwittingly kickstarting a feud between Universal and AMC Theatres that has had a global impact.

Photo credit: Universal
Photo credit: Universal

Let's backtrack a bit.

Earlier this month, Trolls World Tour became the first blockbuster to skip a theatrical release in the US and UK, with Universal taking the unprecedented decision to release it digitally.

It was available as a Premium Video on Demand (PVOD) release, meaning you could rent it for a 48-hour period for $19.99 in the US and £15.99 in the UK.

The release was a success as it broke digital records and The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the movie had grossed nearly $100 million in the US and Canada from five million rentals.

Worldwide details weren't available, but Trolls World Tour has already proven more profitable for Universal in the US than the first movie. Without a cinematic release.

Photo credit: DreamWorks Animation
Photo credit: DreamWorks Animation

The success was marked with this statement from NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell to The Wall Street Journal:

"The results for Trolls World Tour have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD. As soon as theatres reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats."

What seems like an innocuous statement has led to an angry response from AMC Theatres who have said that they will no longer screen Universal movies.

"It is disappointing to us, but Jeff's comments as to Universal's unilateral actions and intentions have left us with no choice," said AMC Theatres' Chair/CEO Adam Aron in a letter to Universal Filmed Entertainment Group chairman Donna Langley.

"This policy affects any and all Universal movies per se, goes into effect today and as our theaters reopen, and is not some hollow or ill-considered threat."

Photo credit: Universal
Photo credit: Universal

You can read the full letter on The Hollywood Reporter, but the gist is that AMC Theatres view Shell's quote as a sign that Universal will no longer respect the 90-day exclusive theatrical window for their releases.

"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 reads.

The letter added that the response is not just aimed at Universal, but will apply to any other distributor who decides to make their movies available at the same time digitally as their cinema release.

And if you think that the decision won't affect cinemagoing outside the US, then think again.

AMC Theatres is the biggest cinema circuit in the world and the ban applies worldwide to AMC's 1,000 cinemas – which includes every Odeon cinema in the UK and Ireland.

Photo credit: MGM/Nicole Dove
Photo credit: MGM/Nicole Dove

If the ban isn't lifted, then it could affect the releases of No Time to Die, Fast & Furious 9 and Jurassic World: Dominion. It seems unthinkable that they won't be available to watch in one of the UK's biggest cinema chains, but it could happen.

Responding to the controversy, Universal said in a statement that they "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 theaters, as well as on PVOD when that distribution outlet makes sense," it continued.

"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."

Photo credit: Universal
Photo credit: Universal

And while Trolls World Tour might have come out digitally (rather than be postponed like so many other blockbusters) it's telling that Universal delayed the likes of No Time to Die and Fast & Furious 9.

The success of Trolls World Tour might have showcased that a digital release will be viable for certain movies, but it was also released during a time when families were mostly stuck at home.

Would it have done as well if it came out when things were more normal?

It's impossible to say, but it has paved the way for experimenting with movie releases in the future, even when cinemas finally open again.

Trolls World Tour is now available to rent from Prime Video UK, iTunes, Microsoft Store, Sky Store, Google Play and other UK streaming platforms.

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