AMC Theatres announces worldwide boycott of Universal Pictures due to ‘Trolls World Tour’ home-video release

April 28, 2020

by Carla Hay

On April 28, 2020, AMC Theatres (the world’s largest cinema company) announced that it is implementing a worldwide boycott of Universal Pictures because the movie studio broke the 90-day embargo for when a movie can be released on home video after being in movie theaters. The boycott was announced after Universal Pictures released the DreamWorks Animation film sequel “Trolls World Tour” directly to home video on April 10, 2020, the day that the movie had been scheduled to be released in movie theaters.

Corporate-owned movie theaters have traditionally refused to carry movies that are released on home video or streaming services within a 90-day period of the movies being released in movie theaters. These movies typically play at independently owned movie theaters, which do not have this strict 90-day embargo policy. It’s why Netflix movies do not play in major theater chains such as AMC, Regal, Cinemark and Cineplex.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, AMC shut down all of its cinema locations in the U.S. and Canada, as of March 18, 2020. Almost all other movie theaters (corporate and independent) in the U.S., Canada and several other countries also closed the same week. As of this writing, most of the movie theaters have remained closed with no specific re-opening dates announced yet. The majority of AMC theater locations are in the United States, which has about 660 AMC theaters, making AMC the largest movie-theater chain in the U.S.

AMC Entertainment president/CEO Adam Aron issued a statement about the Universal Pictures boycott that read, in part: “Going forward, AMC will not license any Universal movies in any of our 1,000 theatres globally on these terms. 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.”

The statement continues: “Therefore, effectively immediately AMC will no longer play any Universal movies in any of our theatres in the United States, Europe or the Middle East. This policy affects any and all Universal movies per se, goes into effect today and as our theatres reopen, and is not some hollow or ill-considered threat. Incidentally, this policy is not aimed solely at Universal out of pique or to be punitive in any way, it also extends to any movie maker who unilaterally abandons current windowing practices absent good faith negotiations between us, so that they as distributor and we as exhibitor both benefit and neither are hurt from such changes. Currently, with the press comment today, Universal is the only studio contemplating a wholesale change to the status quo. Hence, this immediate communication in response.”

Universal Pictures released “Trolls World Tour” in North America at the premium video-on-demand (PVOD) rental price of $19.99, which allowed renters to watch the movie for up to 48 hours. Universal has not yet announced when “Trolls World Tour” will be available for purchase on digital, DVD or Blu-ray. On April 28, 2020, Universal Pictures announced that “Trolls World Tour” had revenue of $100 million in PVOD rentals in its first three weeks of availability in North America.

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, major and independent studios have dramatically changed their theatrical release schedules for their films, with most the theatrical releases getting pushed back several months. Universal Pictures movies whose theatrical release dates have been postponed and rescheduled include  “Fast & Furious 9,” now due out on April 2, 2021; “Jurassic World: Dominion” (June 11, 2021); “Minions: The Rise of Gru” (July 2, 2021); and “Sing 2” (December 22, 2021). Universal Pictures’ next release after “Trolls World Tour” is the comedy “The King of Staten Island” (starring Pete Davidson and directed by Judd Apatow), which will be released directly to video on June 12, 2020, a week before the movie’s originally scheduled theatrical release date.

After the success of “Trolls World Tour” being released directly to video, Warner Bros. Pictures announced that it would follow a similar strategy for the animated Scooby Doo film “Scoob!,” which was originally scheduled to be released in theaters on May 15, 2020. The movie’s release date is still the same, but it will now be on digital and VOD. Unlike Universal’s rental-only strategy for “Trolls World Tour,” Warner Bros. is making “Scoob!” available for rent and purchase on the same day.

Meanwhile, AMC Theatres, like many other cinema companies, is reportedly running out of operational cash. The company is headquartered in Leawood, Kansas, but AMC is actually owned by the Chinese corporation Wanda Group. In October 2019, AMC began offering VOD rentals and purchases of digital film releases under the name AMC Theatres On Demand, but AMC’s studio boycott does not extend to that service. Universal Pictures titles (such as  “The Invisible Man” and “The Hunt”) are still available on AMC Theatres On Demand.

So far, AMC is the only corporate-owned movie theater to announce that it is boycotting any studios that break the 90-day embargo. Alamo Drafthouse and Landmark are two of the independent cinema companies with several U.S. locations that do not limit their selections to movies that have a 90-day home-video/streaming service embargo, so this boycott war does not apply to them.

However, as long as any movie theaters are closed for an undetermined period of time, their financial clout has significantly weakened. Boycotted studios will just take their movies to other theaters that are willing to carry their films. And even after theaters have re-opened, no one knows yet how long it will take for business at movie theaters to get back to “normal,” or if the peak of cinema attendance is now a thing of the past.

April 29, 2020 UPDATE: Cineworld/Regal Cinemas has now joined the boycott. Click here for more details.

July 28, 2020 UPDATE: AMC Theaters and Universal Pictures have reached a truce in their feud. According to Variety, AMC has agreed to carry Universal’s films in AMC Theatres, as long as AMC can have those movies in AMC’s U.S. theaters for a minimum of 17 days, including three weekends.

After the 17 days, Universal will likely make the movies available through premium video on demand (PVOD), which allows viewers to rent a movie on digital and TV platforms for up to 48 hours, for about twice the cost of a regular, non-3D movie theater ticket. The agreement also says that three months after a movie’s theatrical release, the movie’s rental price can then drop to a regular VOD rental price range, which is about half the cost of a regular non-3D movie theater ticket.

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed but AMC CEO Aron said that AMC will “share in these new revenue streams” with Universal. It has also not been revealed yet if AMC Theatres will have this policy for its locations outside the United States.

Click here for an updated list of other corona virus-related cancellations and postponements in the entertainment industry.

Regal Cinemas joins AMC Theatres in boycott of Universal Pictures and any movie studio that breaks home-video embargo

April 29, 2020

by Carla Hay

Regal Cinemas (which is owned by Cineworld) has joined AMC Theatres in its boycott of Universal Pictures and any major film studio that releases any movie directly to home video instead of the original plan to release the movie first in cinemas. Regal’s announcement comes one day after its competitor AMC Theatres announced it was implementing this boycott immediately, for an undetermined period of time.

Regal issued this statement on April 29, 2020, that read in part: “Cineworld’s roots go back 90 years in the industry and it was always open to showing any movie as long as the rules were kept and not changed by one-sided moves. Today we make it clear again that we will not be showing movies that fail to respect the windows as it does not make any economic sense for us.”

The boycott was prompted by Universal Pictures releasing DreamWorks Animation sequel “Trolls World Tour” directly to video on April 20, 2020. “Trolls World Tour” had originally been scheduled to be released in movie theaters on that date. But due to the coronavirus pandemic shutting down almost all movie theaters worldwide, as of mid-March 2020, Universal opted to not postpone the “Trolls World Tour” release date and released the movie directly to digital/video-on-demand as a premium-priced rental.

Cineworld (based in Brentford, England) is the second-largest cinema company in world and in the U.S.,  with approximately 790 locations worldwide, of which more than 570 locations are in the United States. Regal Cinemas, a Cineworld subsidiary, is based in Knoxville, Tennessee. AMC Theaters (based in Leawood, Kansas) is the largest cinema company in the world, with more than 1,000 locations worldwide, of which more than 660 locations are in the United States.

Just like AMC Theatres, Regal has a subscription service that is suspended while its theater locations remain closed. The theater re-opening dates for Cineworld/Regal, AMC and other major cinema companies have not yet been announced, as of this writing.

The following is the full press release/statement from Cineworld/Regal:

Cineworld and Regal’s policy with respect to the window is clear, well known in the industry and is part of our commercial deal with our movie suppliers. We invest heavily in our cinemas across the globe and this allows the movie studios to provide customers all around the world the opportunity to watch movies in the best experience. There is no argument that the big screen is the best way to watch a movie.

Universal unilaterally chose to break our understanding and did so at the height of the Covid-19 crisis when our business is closed, more than 35,000 employees are at home and when we do not yet have a clear date for the reopening of our cinemas.

Universal’s move is completely inappropriate and certainly has nothing to do with good faith business practice, partnership and transparency.

Mooky Greidinger, Cineworld’s CEO approached Brian Roberts, the Chairman of Comcast, back on the 19th of March (after Universal announced that Trolls 2 would be released in breach of the window) and told him among other things that:

“Nice words from your team are worthless if we cannot trust you as a partner. The message that the media has portrayed is: “Hollywood breaks the window” – well, this is not true! All our partners called us in a timely manner and told us that in the current situation they want to shorten the window for movies that were already released as cinemas are closing, most importantly, they all reassured us that there will be no change to their window policy once the cinema business returned. Unfortunately I missed a similar message in Universal’s announcement… 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.”

Cineworld’s roots go back 90 years in the industry and it was always open to showing any movie as long as the rules were kept and not changed by one-sided moves. Today we make it clear again that we will not be showing movies that fail to respect the windows as it does not make any economic sense for us.

We have full confidence in the industry’s current business model. No one should forget that the theatrical side of this industry generated an all-time record income of $42 billion last year and the movie distributors’ share of this was about $20 billion.

About Cineworld:
Cineworld aims to be the best place to watch a movie, offering an unparalleled cinema experience in the UK & Ireland, with 102 cinemas and over 1,030 screens. Cineworld Group was founded in 1995 and is currently the second largest cinema chain in the world following the acquisition of US cinema group Regal Entertainment Group in February 2018. In 2014, the Cineworld Group combined with Cinema City International (CCI) and appointed CCI Founder and CEO Mooky Greidinger, as CEO of the Cineworld Group. In August 2016 Cineworld acquired 5 Empire Cinemas, including the iconic Empire Theatre in Leicester Square. This was followed by the acquisition of Empire Newcastle in 2017. Cineworld currently has 24 IMAX® auditoriums, and 15 Superscreens nationwide, as well as a special VIP experience currently available at 5 of their cinemas. Cineworld are the only operators in the UK to offer ScreenX – a 270-degree format that projects onto the front and side walls of the theatre across 16 auditoriums and 4DX – the immersive multi-sensory cinema experience, with 30 auditoriums across the UK and Ireland, including Cineworld Leicester Square.

About Regal:
Regal, a subsidiary of the Cineworld Group, operates one of the largest and most geographically diverse theatre circuits in the United States, consisting of 7,155 screens in 542 theatres in 42 states along with the District of Columbia and Guam as of March 31, 2020. We believe that the size, reach and quality of the company’s theatre circuit provides its patrons with a convenient and enjoyable moviegoing experience. We are committed to being “The Best Place to Watch a Movie!” Additional information is available on Regal’s website:

Review: ‘Trolls World Tour,’ featuring the voices of Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Rachel Bloom, Sam Rockwell, Anderson .Paak, James Corden and Kelly Clarkson

April 12, 2020

by Carla Hay

Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) and Branch (voiced by Justin Timberlake) in “Trolls World Tour” (Image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation)

“Trolls World Tour”

Directed by Walt Dohrn and David P.  Smith

Culture Representation: This animated film sequel to 2016’s “Trolls” has a racially diverse cast (white, African American, Latino and Asian) voicing characters based on troll dolls.

Culture Clash: The trolls live in different territories based on the music of their lifestyles, and the queen of the rock territory wants to take over everything.

Culture Audience: “Trolls World Tour” is a family-friendly film that will appeal mostly to kids, adults who young at heart and people who like a variety of hit songs.

Barb (voiced by Rachel Bloom) in “Trolls World Tour” (Image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation)

On Broadway, there are jukebox musicals that string together a plot in between the performance of hit songs. And now, the jukebox musical trend has reached animated films with “Trolls World Tour,” which is a showcase for some original songs but mostly retro hits from various genres of music. This sequel to 2016’s “Trolls” packs in even more stars in the voice cast than its predecessor movie. The result is an energetic and vibrant ride that is utterly predictable but should be a crowd-pleaser for its intended audience.

Even though the plot of “Trolls World Tour” is pretty simple, there are five people who are credited with writing the screenplay: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger, Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky and Elizabeth Tippet. The large writing team for this movie is also a reflection of the huge increase in the size of the “Trolls World” voice cast, compared to the first “Trolls” movie. Walt Dohrn, who co-directed “Trolls” with Mike Mitchell, returns as a director on “Trolls World Tour,” but this time with David P. Smith as co-director. Dohrn voices several of the supporting characters in both movies.

Viewers of “Trolls World Tour” don’t need to see the first “Trolls” movie to understand what’s going on in this sequel, but it helps if more of a backstory is needed for the two central characters in both films: Princess Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) and her best friend/love interest Bark (voiced by Justin Timberlake). In “Trolls,” Bark (who tends to be overly pessimistic) became a reluctant ally and then eventual best friend to Poppy (who tends to be overly optimistic) in the Trolls’ quest to defeat the sad and angry creatures known as Bergens, whose goal was to make everyone in the world as miserable as they are.

In “Trolls World Tour,” the chief villain is Princess Barb (voiced by Rachel Bloom) a rocker girl who leads the Trolls whose music of choice is hard rock/heavy metal. Ozzy Osbourne is perfectly cast for the voice of King Thrash, Barb’s father. Barb’s goal is to have rock music take over all six territories in the Troll Kingdom. Each territory represents the music that embodies the Trolls’ lifestyle in each territory.

The other five territories represent the music genres of pop, techno, country, funk and classical. In the beginning of the movie, Barb and her minions arrive in a fleet of sharks to take over the techno territory. She takes a valuable guitar string from the Techno trolls and then she and her army of rock Trolls then move on to conquer the next territory.

When news of the invasion hits the pop territory, Poppy thinks that Barb has good intentions to unite all of the Trolls. But her father King Peppy (voiced by Dohrn) reveals a secret from the Trolls’ historical past: The Trolls almost had a civil war over their different tastes in music, so the music territories were created so Trolls who liked the same genre of music could live together in harmony. Each territory was bestowed with a magical guitar string that has the power to control that territory.

Barb is on a mission to collect all six of the magical strings to put them on a guitar. Once the guitar has the six strings on it, she’ll play an “ultimate power chord” that will give her and rock music complete control over all the Troll territories. Since “Trolls World Tour” is an animated jukebox musical, Barb belts out several rock songs along the way, including Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” and Heart’s “Barracuda.”

“Trolls World Tour” has several jokes about clichés and criticisms that go with certain music genres. The movie pokes fun at pop for being simple, repetitive “earworm” music. Rock is parodied for attracting low-life burnouts who wear mullets or mohawks and do “devil horn” signs. Country music has a stereotype of being full of sad songs and fans who act like rednecks or country bumpkins.

Classical music is labeled as “boring.” Techno gets criticism for its artists not playing “real” instruments. And funk (whose territory is populated with African American voice actors) calls out rap and pop for over-using funk samples. The original song “It’s All Love (History of Funk)” is a clap back to all the music that lifted funk riffs to make hit songs and funk artists not being paid properly for these samples.

Not for nothing, George Clinton (co-founder of Parliament-Funkadelic, one of the most-sampled groups of all time) is cast as new Trolls character King Quincy, who rules the funk territory Vibe City with Queen Essence (voiced by Mary J. Blige). The funk royals have a son named Prince D, voiced by hip-hop star Anderson .Paak, who performs the original song “Don’t Slack” with Timberlake in the film.  And returning Trolls character Cooper (voiced by Ron Funches) from the pop territory finds out that he has a connection to the funk territory.

“Trolls World Tour” once again has Poppy convincing a reluctant and wary Branch to go with her to help stop the chief villain before it’s too late. “Trolls” characters that are also in “Trolls World Tour” are loyal Biggie (voiced by James Corden) and wisecracking Guy Diamond (voiced by Kunal Nayyar), who provide some of the comic relief in the film

But there are so many new characters in “Trolls World Tour” that the movie could feel overstuffed for people who have short attention spans and might have trouble keeping track of them all. Guy now has a son named Tiny Diamond (voiced by Kenan Thompson). Delta Dawn (voiced by Kelly Clarkson) is a sassy, big-haired redhead who is a singer and leader of the country music territory.

Also in the country music territory is Hickory (voiced by Sam Rockwell), a multitalented and brave cowboy who befriends Poppy, much to Branch’s chagrin. Branch has been trying to tell Poppy that he loves her but is afraid to do it, so he gets jealous when it looks like Hickory is winning Poppy’s admiration. Hickory is the biggest standout new character in “Trolls World Tour” since he and his “yee-haw” can-do personality get a lot of screen time.

Some other supporting characters in the movie are the bounty hunters that Barb hires to help her track down the elusive pop guitar string that Poppy has in her possession. The bounty hunters are smooth jazz musician Chaz (voiced by Jamie Dornan), a clarinet-playing Kenny G type who plays hypnotic music that gets on people’s nerves. The other bounty hunters are musical groups representing reggaeton, K-Pop and yodelers. J Balvin has a cameo as the reggaeton leader, and his song “Mi Gente” is in the movie.

There are several familiar hits that get the medley treatment in “Trolls World Tour,” including Spice Girls’ “Wannabe,” Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch’s “Good Vibrations,” Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” Baha Men’s “Who Let the Dogs Out” and LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem.” Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” has the lyrics reworked with the word “trolls” replacing the word “girls.” Dierks Bentley’s song “Leaving Lonesome Flats” (written for “Trolls World Tour”) is featured in a country music segment. And an electronic-dance music concert in the movie’s opening scene has the DJ playing Daft Punk’s “One More Time.”

“Trolls World Tour” music directors are Timberlake and Ludwig Goransson, the musician who won an Oscar and a Grammy for the “Black Panther” score, as well as Grammys for co-writing and producing Childish Gambino’s “This Is America.” Timberlake and Goransson co-wrote and produced the majority of the original songs in “Trolls World Tour,” such as the ballad “Perfect for Me,” “Don’t Slack” and “Just Sing (Trolls World Tour),” which is the movie’s obvious signature anthem. The music is very catchy, but won’t be as huge as Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop The Feeling!,” the Oscar-nominated song from the first “Trolls” movie.

In its plot about Barb the villain trying to make all the Trolls conform to the way she wants them to be, “Trolls World Tour” has a message that people can live peacefully while respecting each other’s differences. It’s a message that comes wrapped in a lot of musical numbers and action sequences, but it’s something that audiences can take to heart. And along the way, some people might learn more about music genres that they might have previously dismissed because of certain prejudices.

Universal Pictures/DreamWorks Animation released “Trolls World Tour” for rental only on digital and VOD on April 10, 2020.

Universal Pictures becomes first major studio to break 90-day home-video embargo for theatrical releases

March 16, 2020

by Carla Hay

A scene from “Trolls World Tour” (Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Animation)

The coronavirus pandemic has drastically shifted how movies are going to be released from now on. On March 16, 2020, Universal Pictures announced that it’s releasing the DreamWorks Animation sequel “Trolls World Tour” on VOD (video on demand) on April 10, 2020, the same day it plans to release the movie in the shrinking number of U.S. theaters that are staying open in April 2020. This decision is unprecedented because major movie chains such as AMC Theatres and Regal Cinemas have fought against movies being released on video or streaming services within 90 days of their release in movie theaters, and these corporate-owned movie theaters have refused to carry movies that have this type of release schedule.

Universal also announced that for its movies released on video the same day that they’re released in theaters, there will be a 48-hour VOD rental period at a suggested retail price of $19.99 in the U.S. and the price equivalent in international markets.

Now that cinema giant Regal is out of commission until further notice (Regal announced that it’s temporarily closing all of its U.S. theaters, as of March 17, 2020), it was only a matter of time before a major movie studio took the bold step to release one of its movies on video on the same day it will be released in cinemas. (Independent film studios have been doing this for years.) Universal had been considering this release strategy for some of its movies in the 2010s, but Universal didn’t follow through with this plan because the corporate movie chains threatened to boycott the studio. That was then. This is now.

“Trolls World Tour,” the first sequel to 2016’s “Trolls,” will include returning voice actors Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake and James Corden. New cast members in “Trolls World Tour” include Rachel Bloom, Ozzy Osbourne, George Clinton, Mary J. Blige, Kelly Clarkson, Sam Rockwell, Icona Pop, Jamie Dornan, Anderson .Paak, J Balvin and Kenan Thompson.

Universal also announced that its movies that are currently in theaters (“The Hunt,” “The Invisible Man” and Focus Features’ “Emma”) will be available on VOD as early as March 20, 2020.

NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell commented in a statement: “Universal Pictures has a broad and diverse range of movies with 2020 being no exception. Rather than delaying these films or releasing them into a challenged distribution landscape, we wanted to provide an option for people to view these titles in the home that is both accessible and affordable. We hope and believe that people will still go to the movies in theaters where available, but we understand that for people in different areas of the world that is increasingly becoming less possible.”

A press release from NBCUniversal (the parent company of Universal Pictures) stated: “Given the rapidly evolving and unprecedented changes to consumers’ daily lives during this difficult time, the company felt that now was the right time to provide this option in the home as well as in theaters. NBCUniversal will continue to evaluate the environment as conditions evolve and will determine the best distribution strategy in each market when the current unique situation changes.”

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