Will the coronavirus shut down movie theaters for good?

movie theaters reopen coronavirus pandemic
Photo via Montgomery County Planning Commission/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)
  • The success of the Trolls World Tour digital release has theaters on edge
  • Universal to start releasing movies VOD at same time as theater releases
  • Universal said it “absolutely believes in the theatrical experience” 

The coronavirus has thrown a wrench in the traditional movie-release process as theaters were forced to close their doors. But that doesn’t mean COVID-19 is shutting them down for good and some point, movie theaters likely will reopen.

Universal released Trolls World Tour directly to streaming platforms in April, rather than wait the typical three months between the theater release and the general release. The company said it released the movie ahead of schedule to provide entertainment to people stuck at home during the pandemic. 

However, the decision prompted executives at cinema chains, like AMC Theatres, to worry about whether the conventional movie release model was falling apart. 

Even more worrisome for cinema chains was that Trolls World Tours performed really well without the help of a theater release. In fact, the movie’s digital release sold more for Universal in three weeks than the previous Trolls movie did in four months at the box office. As Forbes noted, the sequel made about $100 million in its first three weeks of premium video on demand release, though that doesn’t necessarily make it a box-office success quite yet. 

Experts have pointed out that there are many factors that may have given the Trolls World Tours’ digital release an advantage. For one, people are stuck at home with not much to do. Then, there’s the fact that some entertainment, like sports, is no longer available (though that might change soon). 

Once life goes back to normal post-pandemic, some experts believe that the movie-going experience will too. 

Universal seems to recognize the unique circumstances as well. Although the company plans to digitally release some movies at the same time as they screen at theaters, Universal has made it clear that they aren’t ditching theater releases anytime soon. The company said that it “absolutely believes in the theatrical experience.”  

On June 9, the largest movie theater chain in the U.S., AMC Entertainment, said it would reopen in July. In the first quarter of 2020, AMC said it lost more than $2 billion.

On July 23, though, those plans changed. Perhaps it’s not surprising since even Broadway theaters will be shut down through the end of 2020. AMC said it will now open the majority of its theaters in mid-to-late August.

“This new timing reflects currently expected release dates for much anticipated blockbusters like Warner Bros.’ Tenet and Disney’s Mulan, as well as release dates for several other new movies coming to AMC’s big screens,” the theater chain said in a statement.

Sources: CNN, Universal, Forbes

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