Saturday, August 15, 2020

AMC May Not Even Be Allowed To Ban Universal Movies

It’s been a rough week for AMC Theatres, with the movie chain’s recent financial troubles followed by a controversial letter claiming that they’ll refuse to show Universal Pictures films in their cinemas after the studio suggested retaining a dual release window for PVOD and theatrical releases. And while AMC have received support from Regal Cinemas owner Cineworld, it appears that the chain might not actually be allowed to follow through on their threat to ban Universal content from their screens.

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It’s been a rough week for AMC Theatres, with the movie chain’s recent financial troubles followed by a controversial letter claiming that they’ll refuse to show Universal Pictures films in their cinemas after the studio suggested retaining a dual release window for PVOD and theatrical releases. And while AMC have received support from Regal Cinemas owner Cineworld, it appears that the chain might not actually be allowed to follow through on their threat to ban Universal content from their screens.

The suggestion came as part of an industry conference panel discussing plans to reopen closed theatres, with Marcus Theatres’ Sonny Gourley clarifying that their chain are not banning Universal titles currently intended for exclusive theatrical releases, including scheduled and delayed films like Candyman and Fast & Furious 9. The panel’s moderator, J. Sperling Reich, floated the idea that AMC’s plan could be complicated by Dalian Wanda, the Chinese conglomerate who are AMC Theatres’ majority shareholder, also owning Legendary Entertainment, which has well-established co-production and co-financing ties with Universal Pictures.

As a result, any attempts by AMC Theatres to boycott Universal’s movie slate might cause some corporate headaches, and may even lead to AMC CEO and chairman Adam Aron being overruled. Of course, this is only speculation at this point, but the ownership question does raise some issues for whether AMC could, in practice, follow through on their plan. Given the reaction online to the possibility of them not running Universal titles, there’ll be a lot of people unhappy with the ban, which will most likely push audiences to rival chains.

AMC Theatres are therefore taking quite a significant risk in standing up to Universal, who have recently clarified that, despite the importance of theatrical distribution, they’re committed to developing their VOD options. Although the success of Trolls: World Tour might be an anomaly due to people stuck at home during the lockdown, it’s clear that studios can’t ignore the potential success of making at least some of their future titles available online close to, if not on their actual theatrical release date.

With the debate between AMC Theatres, Universal, and other cinema chains ongoing, we’ll be sure to bring you the latest on what’s shaping up to be a landmark tussle over the value of the traditional moviegoing experience.

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