AMC theaters goes from the verge of bankruptcy to issuing ultimatums

Staff photo

Despite some saber rattling over the last week, expect AMC and Regal movie theater chains to continue to show movies produced by Universal Pictures once theaters are up and running following the pandemic.

If you’ve paid much attention to movie news over the last week, then certainly you’ve heard that AMC, North America’s largest movie chain, threatened to not show any films by Universal Pictures if the studio was intent on releasing its movies to Video on Demand concurrently to releasing the movie in theaters.

Wasn’t AMC on the verge of bankruptcy just last month?

Regal, North America’s second largest chain, chimed in that it would not boycott films by any studio that respects the 90-day window of not releasing movies to any other medium but theaters as negotiated between the major studios and The National Association of Theater Owners (NATO).

Regal’s press release was a little bit more positive spin on AMC’s pronouncement, but basically says the same thing. If Universal or any other studio doesn’t respect the 90-day window, then both the first and second largest theater chains don’t plan to exhibit their films.

This all started when Universal issued a press release praising “Trolls World Tour” for topping the $100 million mark in VOD rentals and purchases. The film was set to be released in theaters, but with the novel coronavirus forcing them to be shut down, Universal opted to release the sequel to the popular “Trolls” film on VOD in March without a theatrical release.

Doing that miffed some in the theater owners, but it did not prompt AMC and Regal’s response. However, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell’s announcement that Universal planned to release films on VOD concurrently with theatrical release is what prompted AMC and NATO’s ire because the move would undercut their business, which works on slim margins in the first place.

Studios retain upwards of 90 percent of the ticket price during the first two weeks a movie is in theaters. The longer a film stays in theaters, the percentage the studio keeps is reduced. After a month the split is closer to 50/50; however, most films do the bulk of their business in the first two weeks.

That’s why theater owners are so protective of the 90-day window, and popcorn and other snacks are so overpriced at theaters. They have to pay the bills somehow.

A lot films draw so poorly, theaters release them after just two weeks to allow more room for films that might sell more tickets. Some after just a week.

It is thought by theater owners that concurrent VOD and theatrical release would crush their already thin margins. It’s hard to argue with them.

Either way, Shell backtracked rather quickly, saying that Universal would honor the negotiated 90-day window, and that he didn’t mean to imply that the studio wouldn’t.

For better or worse, studios need theaters because quality films have the potential to make so much more money in theaters than with VOD release alone.

For example, the original “Trolls” made $365 million in theaters plus whatever it made on VOD later. After a month on VOD, “Trolls World Tour” has probably done all the business it’s going to do. Sure, it set a VOD record at $100 million, but that’s $265 million less that what it might have done in theaters.

Universal franchise like the Jurassic Park and Fast and Furious no doubt would have done well on VOD had they been released concurrently with theaters, but how much would that have hacked into the theatrical draw is unknown. It likely would be substantial.

Would you pay to go to the theater to see a movie you had already paid to see at home?

It’s highly unlikely tentpole films would reach their maximum box-office potential with day-and-dat VOD release.

And right now, studios are built on billion-dollar franchises or at least the attempt to make them, and they need theaters to catapult their films to their highest level of profitability.

Of course, we will have to see how the theater business does once they are back up and running later this summer.

Frankenstein (National Theater of Great Britain Production)

For the next week, the National Theater of Great Britain’s production of “Frankenstein” will be available to view for free on the theater’s Youtube channel.

The play, directed by Danny Boyle and starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller, was filmed in 2011, and while the material will be quite familiar to fans of the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley novel and the numerous films from the 20th century, this version is from a different point of view — the creature’s.

The novel is narrated in epistolary style by Captain Walton from his remembrances of conversations with Victor Frankenstein and with the creature. The films are most often told from Dr. Frankenstein’s perspective, but this play is about how the creature deals with being abandoned at birth.

There are two versions of the production, one with Cumberbatch as the creature and Miller as Victor Frankenstein, and vice versa.

The role of the creature is the dominant and much showier role, and Cumberbatch gave a compellingly strong and poignant performance as the creature. I have not seen Miller’s turn as the creature, but he is serviceable as the mad scientist in the less demanding role.

The play hits on the major themes of the novel, but strips the story down to its core, which is no doubt for the good of the production. The novel, while as relevant today as when it was written with its themes of responsibility, maturity, and abandonment, is an admittedly tedious read.

The play isn’t scary, but it certainly is tragic and sad. It does contain some nudity for parents who might be planning to watch with children.

Salute The Duke Month on INSPTV

During the weekends this month, INSP TV (Channel 250 Cox Cable) is supplementing its afternoon lineup of classic TV Westerns with John Wayne movies at 7 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to celebrate Wayne’s birth month with “The Duke Days of May”.

This week’s films are “Big Jake” on Friday, “War Wagon” on Saturday, and “The Undefeated” on Sunday. “Big Jake” is a particular favorite of mine. It was the first John Wayne movie I saw on the big screen as a kid in the 1970s.

In conjunction with the “Salute to the Duke,” INSP is hosting a 6:30 p.m. central Facebook chat with Ethan Wayne, The Duke’s son who played Wayne’s kidnapped son in “Big Jake.”

Just got to INSP’s Facebook page to hear Wayne’s youngest son reminisce about acting with his father.