In the wake of the Coronavirus, Universal moves theatrical releases to digital
The move represents the latest threat to what's known as the "theatrical window"
With the coronavirus pandemic raging on, the closing of movie theaters and the cancellation of much of the spring movie season, many film fans have been left wondering whether they’ll have anything new to watch (outside of streaming services), while they’re stuck at home.
On Monday, one studio answered that question.
Per Variety, Universal announced that three movies that were released in theaters in recent weeks – The Hunt, The Invisible Man, and Emma. – would arrive on video-on-demand channels as soon as this Friday, March 20. Additionally, the studio said that Trolls World Tour, the DreamWorks Animation film being distributed by Universal, will be released on demand April 10, the date it was originally scheduled to come out in theaters.
The films will cost more than is typical, $19.99 for a 48-hour rental.
The move, which as of Monday night had not been taken by any studio besides Universal, represents the latest threat to what’s known as the theatrical window. Ever since the early days of VHS and Beta, and all through the Blockbuster Video era, there’s been a certain window of time, usually a couple of months, between a movie’s release in theaters and its arrival on home video.
In recent years, streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and even Hulu have begun collapsing the window, putting movies out in theaters and then streaming them less than a month later. When Netflix has done this with prestige films in the last two years, the releases have been boycotted by such major theatrical chains as AMC and Regal. Last week, Hulu moved the the streaming release for its Pete Davidson comedy, Big Time Adolescence, ahead a week, to match it with its planned theatrical release.
But, with Regal announcing that it’s closing all of its theaters starting Tuesday and AMC instituting a “50/50” partial capacity policy, Universal felt the time right to get its movies to audiences in an alternative way.
Another scheduled Universal film, the ninth Fast and Furious picture, was due to arrive in theaters in May, but has instead had its release delayed nearly a year, to April 2021.
“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,” NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said in a statement announcing the move. “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.”
Invisible Man drew positive reviews and was a strong box office performer upon release in late February, while Emma. also received strong notices. The Hunt, which had its release postponed from last fall after a pair of mass shootings and an informed tweet by the president, finally arrived in theaters last week, but underperformed at the understandably weak box office.