In an unprecedented crunch of the theatrical window as several markets across the U.S. close down in response to safety coronavirus along with worldwide, NBCUniversal’s Universal Pictures is officially making its current movies in cinematic release –Blumhouse’s The Invisible Man and The Hunt, and Focus Features’ Emma — available in homes as early as this Friday for on-demand 48-hour rental at the suggested price of $19.99 each. This is both for domestic and offshore markets where the titles are in release. Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal, made the announcement this morning.
In addition, with the outlook of the theatrical marketplace unclear, Universal/DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls World Tour, which was scheduled to be the first theatrical comeback title down the road on Easter weekend April 10, will now go day-and-date in homes and on the big screen. Trolls World Tour doesn’t roll out widely offshore until April 20, and in those markets, the sequel will also be available for VOD rental as well as cinemas. Already, Trolls World Tour has a large marketing campaign underway, including support from the conglom’s Comcast, NBCUniversal and Sky’s cross-company Symphony. Trolls World Tour opened over the weekend in Singapore and Malaysia to a lackluster $200,000.
Note this theatrical window-breaking doesn’t extend to Universal’s exorbitant $175 million Robert Downey feature Dolittle, which tanked theatrically this winter with $227.3 million in worldwide box office. That movie will follow through with a regular theatrical-to-home window. Dolittle is awaiting for a release in China once that country’s exhibition infrastructure gets back on track following its coronavirus outbreak.
The intentions here by NBCUni is to make big movies available in the home to the masses as current circumstances have made it more challenging for them to head out, and as the nation is poised for a massive shut-in at home. “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,” read a statement this morning.
The current theatrical window is 90 days. Those titles that don’t obey that window aren’t booked by the nationwide circuits like AMC, Cinemark and Regal. Netflix has tried to crunch the window in regards to their releases with major chains, but they’ve never found a common meeting ground, hence, big $200 million productions like Martin Scorsese’s lauded The Irishman played in limited theatrical release before finding their way on the streaming service a month later.
At this point in time, the theatrical-VOD day-and-date release policy seen here isn’t one set in stone for future titles beyond Trolls World Tour. Decisions on titles and duration have not been made yet.
“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,” said Shell. “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.”
This past weekend, the domestic weekend box office saw a 22-year low of $55.3 million, with around 109 cinemas closed throughout the country. Both Los Angeles and New York, which are the box office capitals of the U.S., have mandated that their cinemas close soon. LA was the top-grossing market with $2.6M this past weekend, -55% from last weekend, while New York, typically No. 2, dropped to third with $1.469M, -64%. The projected grosses for the crop of new wide releases The Hunt, I Still Believe and Bloodshot were off significantly, with their three-day totals coming in at $5.3M, $9.5M and $9.3M, respectively. In normal market conditions, The Hunt could have posted $8M-$10M, Bloodshot about the same, and I Still Believe between $11M-$14M. Disney’s Onward posted the biggest second-weekend drop for a Pixar title ever at -72%, or $10.5M, as moviegoers were distracted in stockpiling goods given coronavirus mania.
While most movies this past weekend saw a bump on Saturday over Friday, it wasn’t by much. Overall, for Uni’s pics, which are hitting the 48-hour VOD rental on Friday, they like other titles saw big weekend drips, i.e., The Invisible Man ($6M in weekend 3, -60%, for a $64.4M total) and Emma ($1.37M after expanding to 1,732 in Weekend 4, -72% for a $10M current total).
If market conditions had been normal, the one film that would get hurt by this proposition is The Invisible Man, which conceivably had $15M left in it. Emma was limited in its play with sophisticated older adults being the prime demo, and The Hunt arrived in the marketplace already tainted after the Blue State vs. Red State movie was bashed by right-wingers over the summer at the height of public shootings, which forced the pic’s release off its original September date.
However, the move to put Trolls World Tour out day-and-date is a shocker. After No Time to Die left the April 10 Easter corridor for Thanksgiving, Uni swooped in. The pic for some time was looked at as a sign of hope by exhibition that if this coronavirus situation eases up, Trolls World Tour would eventually bring us back. The first movie, which cost $125M, went on to make $347M WW and spawned spinoff TV shows, merchandising and a hit song by the pic’s star Justin Timberlake. The song, “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” went quadruple platinum with over 7.6M units sold in the U.S. as well as setting other records, and it was his best first-week single on Digital Songs clocking a 163M audience, higher than “Mirrors.”
In response to local city ordinances, movie chains were capping their auditorium capacities by as much as 50%. AMC said this morning that for those chains open, auditorium capacity wouldn’t exceed 50 people. Distribution execs weren’t fearing those caps as curbing business as most majors and indie distributors had postponed their releases indefinitely, i.e., such event pics like No Time to Die, Mulan, A Quiet Place Part II and more.
The last time in recent memory when a major studio release was made available both in theaters and in-home was Sony’s The Interview during that studio’s massive hack six years ago. Given the controversy that James Franco-Seth Rogen satire comedy stirred up with North Korea, with that country being one of the reported suspects behind the hack, Sony pulled the full-on theatrical release and made The Interview available for purchase and rental on demand, in-home. While the major circuits wouldn’t play The Interview, smaller chains like Alamo and mom-and-pop cinemas actually did. The Interview, which cost an estimated $44M before P&A, only made $11.7M at the domestic box office over the 2014 year-end holiday.