AMC Theaters Strikes A Game-Changing Deal with Universal Pictures

Published on July 29, 2020

Months ago, AMC Theaters and Universal Pictures had a standoff. After the studio released Trolls World Tour on VOD instead of theaters to great success, one of the biggest studios in Hollywood confirmed they’d release more major pictures on VOD. AMC, needles to say, wasn’t happy and threatened not to show any of the studio’s movies, like the next Fast & Furious and Jurassic World. It was an obvious bluff. Now, the studio and biggest theater chain in the United States have come to a very surprising agreement regarding VOD. 

The Home Video Window

The home video/VOD window just got a whole lot smaller for Universal’s movies. In the past, studios had to wait three months until after releasing a movie in theaters to release it on VOD or Blu-Ray. That’s just changed, at least for Universal. The studio will only have to wait 17 days now after opening day to release a big movie on VOD. It’s a sign of the times, which likely scares other theater chains and infuriates filmmakers who want their work seen in a theater.

The Agreement 

The big kicker is AMC will get a cut of the VOD profits, which they did not on Trolls World Tour and more than likely, The King of Staten Island. Both were hits on VOD for Universal, so AMC must’ve realized they can get some of that extra money on the table. Better than nothing, right? It’s where the future is heading. In a statement, the chairman of Universal Studios, Donna Langley, said: 

“The theatrical experience continues to be the cornerstone of our business. The partnership we’ve forged with AMC is driven by our collective desire to ensure a thriving future for the film distribution ecosystem and to meet consumer demand with flexibility and optionality.” 

As for AMC’s CEO Adam Aron, who bluffed Universal’s movies would no longer play at AMC Theaters, is supposedly pleased about the deal:

“AMC enthusiastically embraces this new industry model both because we are participating in the entirety of the economics of the new structure, and because premium video on demand creates the added potential for increased movie studio profitability, which should in turn lead to the green-lighting of more theatrical movies.” 

Will Other Studios Do The Same?

No other major studio embraced VOD quite like Universal did during COVID-19. Disney, Warner Bros., and others are saving their major movies for theaters. Disney’s Bob Iger said the company was open to releasing more movies on VOD, but other than the now legendarily awful Artemis Fowl, Disney hasn’t released any notable narrative films on streaming during these times. Universal is the only studio in town with this AMC deal. It’d be surprising if they were the only studio to strike such a major deal, though. More change is certainly coming. 

Cineworld’s Reaction

Cineworld, which owns Regal Theaters, has no such deal with movie studios, including AMC Theaters. They are strongly against the idea of a 17-day window. The CEO of the company, Mooky Greidinger, told Deadline they’re sticking to their three-month window… but can they? They’ll need Universal’s movies, especially after how much they’ve been hurt by COVID-19. Are they really not going to show the next Jurassic World and Fast & Furious? Will they turn down hundreds of millions of dollars to fight the inevitable? 

It’s clear studios now have the upperhand in this discussion. They own and make the movies at the end of the day, too. Understandably, though, Cineworld’s CEO isn’t happy about the news: 

“While we don’t know the full details and we are always analyzing any move in the industry, we will analyze it. People need to be aware that the first big movie from Universal is coming only in six months so there is no pressure here,” said Greidinger. “But we clearly see this as a wrong move at the wrong time. Clearly we are not changing our policy with regards to showing only movies that are respecting the theatrical window.”

Good and Bad News

On the one hand, this is good news. Going to the movies is expensive for a lot of people, especially large families. It’s a luxury for many don’t have. With VOD, a family of five or six can watch a major release together for the cost of $20 instead of three or four times that number. More people will have easier access to new movies. 

On the other hand, what will this mean for smaller movies? Will theaters now put even more emphasis on only showing huge money makers on their screens? That’s already their priority, but what if voices and stories continue to get left out of major theaters, where the likes of Disney dominate?

Jack Giroux is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Los Angeles, he is an entertainment journalist who's previously written for Thrillist, Slash Film, Film School Rejects, and The Film Stage.

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