As cinemas close, stu­dios push new movies into homes

The Kansas City Star - - Obituaries - BY JAKE COYLE

U.S. movie the­aters have closed na­tion­wide due to the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, turn­ing dark nearly all of the country’s 40,000-plus screens in an un­prece­dented shut­down.

The largest chains had tried to re­main open even as Hol­ly­wood post­poned its up­com­ing re­lease plans and guide­lines for so­cial dis­tanc­ing steadily di­min­ished the rec­om­mended size of crowds. But af­ter Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Mon­day urged against gatherings of more than 10 peo­ple, AMC The­aters, the na­tion’s largest chain, said Tues­day its the­aters would close al­to­gether.

AMC said the lat­est guide­lines made movie the­ater op­er­a­tions “es­sen­tially im­pos­si­ble.” It said it would close all lo­ca­tions in the U.S. for at least six to 12 weeks. Regal, the sec­ond largest chain, said Mon­day that its the­aters would close un­til fur­ther no­tice.

With movie the­aters locked down for the fore­see­able fu­ture, some stu­dios took the ex­tra­or­di­nary step of fun­nel­ing new or re­cently re­leased films onto home view­ing plat­forms. Univer­sal Pic­tures said Mon­day it will make its cur­rent and up­com­ing films avail­able for on­de­mand rental, be­com­ing the first ma­jor stu­dio to break the tra­di­tional the­atri­cal win­dow of 90 days.

The stu­dio said it will put movies cur­rently in the­aters – “In­vis­i­ble Man,” “The Hunt,” “Emma” – up for rental as early as Fri­day. It also said that “Trolls World Tour,” one of the only ma­jor releases left on the April cal­en­dar, will de­but in the­aters and on-de­mand ser­vices si­mul­ta­ne­ously. A 48-hour rental will cost $19.99.

Most of Eu­rope’s cinemas have al­ready shut down, as have those in China, India and else­where. North Amer­ica’s shut­down came grad­u­ally. On Sun­day, the may­ors of New York and Los An­ge­les or­dered their cities’ the­aters closed. Gov­ern­ments in Mas­sachusetts and Que­bec also closed the­aters.

Over the week­end, ticket sales plunged to their low­est lev­els in at least 20 years at U.S. and Cana­dian the­aters. Not since a quiet Septem­ber week­end in 2000 has week­end box of­fice rev­enue been so low, ac­cord­ing to data firm Com­score.

Univer­sal’s move could be seen as ei­ther a wa­ter­shed mo­ment for Hol­ly­wood or an aber­ra­tion due to ex­treme cir­cum­stances. With few ex­cep­tions, the ma­jor stu­dios have guarded the 90-day ex­clu­siv­ity win­dow even as dig­i­tal new­com­ers like Net­flix and Ama­zon have chal­lenged it. For the stu­dios, box of­fice still is the pri­mary rev­enue gen­er­a­tor. Last week, the Mo­tion Pic­ture As­so­ci­a­tion said world­wide ticket sales reached $42.2 bil­lion last year.

The Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of The­ater Own­ers, the trade group that rep­re­sents movie ex­hibitors, de­clined to com­ment.

NBCUniver­sal is prep­ping its own streaming ser­vice, dubbed Pea­cock, but it isn’t to launch un­til July 15. On Sun­day, the Walt Dis­ney Co. made “Frozen 2” avail­able on its streaming ser­vice, Dis­ney Plus. But that film had al­ready com­pleted its the­atri­cal run. Its dig­i­tal re­lease didn’t break the tra­di­tional 90-day the­atri­cal ex­clu­siv­ity win­dow.

Still, Hol­ly­wood’s ma­jor up­com­ing releases aren’t cur­rently head­ing for the home; they’re be­ing held for when the­aters re­open. Para­mount Pic­tures’ “A Quiet Place Part II,” ear­lier slated for re­lease Fri­day, has been re­moved from the sched­ule. Dis­ney’s “Mulan” and the James Bond film “No Time to Die” have been put off. Univer­sal ear­lier pushed its lat­est “Fast and Fu­ri­ous” movie, “F9,” from late May to April of next year.

The bou­tique stu­dio A24 said Mon­day that it will re-re­lease the ac­claimed “First Cow,” which opened in lim­ited re­lease March 6, later this year, since its ini­tial bow has been marred by the­ater clo­sures.

ROZETTE RAGO NYT

Univer­sal Pic­tures said Mon­day that it would no longer give the­aters an ex­clu­sive pe­riod of roughly 90 days to play new films, a de­ci­sion prompted by the coro­n­avirus.

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