Are​ AMC Theaters Bluffing Over Banning Universal’s Movies?

Published on April 29, 2020

Yesterday, AMC Theaters dropped a bombshell: they’re no longer going to screen Universal’s movies. It’s the result of Universal releasing Trolls World Tour on VOD and the decision paying off big for them. Theaters were furious. In fact, AMC stewed hard enough they decided to not play their movies anymore. Fat chance of that, though.

Are They Bluffing?

Most likely, yes, AMC Theaters are bluffing. Their business is so terrible right now due to the coronavirus. Then again, their stock and business wasn’t in great shape months ago, either Are they really going to turn down billions of dollars and not release the next James Bond movie, the next Jurassic Park movie, or next year’s Fast & Furious sequel? Doubtful. They’ll need the money more than Universal does. Like the National Theater Owners Association, it sounds like AMC blowing hot air. 

To Be Fair

Of course, AMC is in such a bad state right now, of course they see it as a betrayal Universal would release not one but two major releases on streaming. Theater owners see the studios as partners. They don’t understand why they weren’t informed or involved in the discussions, even though they have no ownership over the titles whatsoever.

There’s a sense of entitlement on the theaters’ parts. Of course, they’re hurting and need movies to show once they reopen. Universal’s Trolls World Tour and The King of Staten Island would’ve helped them and their employees out, but instead, Universal focused on helping themselves and their employees. That’s fair, too. 

Why Not Boycott Disney?

Not long ago, Disney announced they’re releasing Artemis Fowl on Disney+. Disney’s Bob Iger confirmed more high-profile Disney movies will get released on their streaming platforms in the future.Disney, too, is going to release their movies on streaming. And yet, we don’t hear AMC Theaters and NATO complaining about that. No way they’d bite Disney’s hand. They could never afford to refuse to screen Disney’s movies, but could they afford the loss of Universal’s movies? Again, it’s another reason why it looks like AMC Theaters — a company on the verge of bankruptcy — is trying to play tough. Bet big money this “Universal ban” will not last long if at all.

AMC’s Full Statement 

AMC Theaters chairman and CEO, Adam Aron, sent a public letter to Universal bigwig, Donna Langley. The letter condemns the studio and basically declares war on Universal pictures. The letter came shortly after Universal called Trolls World Tour a huge success. They intended on releasing more movies on VOD as a result, too.

Here’s the full, slightly grandiose letter from Adam Aron. He claims it’s not a “hollow threat” but reads entirely as a hollow threat: 

“It is disappointing to us, but Jeff’s comments as to Universal’s unilateral actions and intentions have left us with no choice. Therefore, effectively immediately AMC will no longer play any Universal movies in any of our theaters 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 theaters 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 Fires Back

Universal won’t let AMC Theaters and the National Theater Owners Association push them around. The theater group has tried desperately to discredit the success of Trolls World Tour. They discredit moviegoers’ interest in watching movies at home with their struggling families for far more affordable prices, too. Here’s Universal’s response to the debacle: 

“We 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. We look forward to having additional private conversations with our exhibition partners but are disappointed by this seemingly coordinated attempt from AMC and NATO to confuse our position and our actions. 

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.”

The National Theater Owners Association quickly responded calling Universal’s claim “a lie.” They say it wasn’t a coordinated attempt between them and the biggest theater chain in the world. That’s very hard to believe, just like it’s hard to believe AMC Theaters won’t show Universal’s biggest movies in the future.

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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