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With COVID-19 in full swing, the movie and movie theater industry is in unprecedented times. Theaters have shut down. Movie studios have shifted release dates. Now, we’re in a period of hurry up and wait and there’s tension in the air as we wait to see when things start to get back to normal again. But for NATO head John Fithian moving Trolls World Tour out of theaters and into homes was a step too far.
John Fithian currently serves as the head of the National Association of Theater owners. In a wide-ranging interview over at THR he made his thoughts on Trolls World Tour very clear when he stated:
Only Universal, and only on Trolls, did one studio skip the theatrical model and go straight to the home. Universal continues to advertise to consumers that Trolls will be released simultaneously to theaters and the home on April 10. And they are lying to consumers. Universal knows that theaters will still be closed on April 10, so unlike every other distributor who must simply delay their releases in that time period, but still understand that theatrical release is essential to their business model, Universal on Trolls didn’t make that decision. Exhibitors will not forget this.
The NATO head honcho went on to say that the relationship between theaters and movie studios is generally a good one and that he does understand why some movies – think Bloodshot or Onward have needed to shift to Digital early after their theatrical runs were shortened due to theaters choosing to close during the coronavirus crisis.
Trolls came out back in 2016, back before Universal Studios bought animation studio Dreamworks, which has created both movies. At the time, it had a nice haul at the box office, bringing in over $346 million worldwide. Now Trolls World Tour is hitting homes early it won’t need to split profits with theaters, and John Fithian also said he believes the choice does not show faith in the theatrical model.
But all of the other movies with originally planned release dates in April and May, with the one exception of Trolls, will be released later theatrically, with full theatrical windows. All those other studios demonstrated their belief that the theatrical model is still essential to their business, they just had to delay release dates because of the virus.
The comments came around the same time Paramount also announced The Lovebirds, a new comedy starring Kumail Nanjiani and Issae Rae, had been bought by Netflix and will now no longer appear on the big screen. In the case of The Lovebirds, I’m not sure the movie would be described as an “event film” in the same way Trolls World Tour is for families.
Regardless, the commentary here was specifically directed at the family-friendly sequel choosing to forego theaters entirely and made no mention of The Lovebirds. Some other movies, including Paramount's own The Cloverfield Paradox, have foregone theatrical releases and sold to streaming previously. However, the circumstances were different.
Currently over 150,000 movie theater employees are no longer working due to the shutdowns at major theaters chains (and small chains too, although Drive-Ins seem to be thriving), and theaters are looking to Congress to help with relief during these trying COVID-19 quarantined times. Christopher Nolan has even written about the movie theater business being a thriving and necessary part of the entertainment industry.
Meanwhile, the various studios are sitting on a goldmine of new movies that were expected to hit theaters in the spring. Many of these movies are big ticket event movies --think A Quiet Place Part II or Mulan -- that could make hundreds of thousands if not a billion dollars or more theatrically. Once this crisis is over, it will be interesting to see how dates for tentpole movies shuffle to accommodate one another when all this is over.
In other news, 2021 was already looking like a hell of a good year for movies and now it may be even more stacked. Right now, films have been pushed back at least through May. Beyond that, Warner Bros. and DC’s Wonder Woman 1984 is still fighting the good fight and sticking to its June 5 release date for now.
The studio can’t guarantee that everything will pan out exactly how it hopes, but how freaking cool would it be for the first movie to hit theaters after this crisis to feature Gal Gadot's character and her famous lasso? I’m super stoked and I really hope Wonder Woman 1984 gets to be the movie to revitalize the box office. Only love can truly save the world.