The times are a-changin'.
We are certainly living in some unprecedented times during this COVID-19 pandemic. Over the last week, three major things were announced in the movie industry that has the ability to change the scope of the film world, forever. Let's take a look at each of those developments.
1. AMC banned Comcast/Universal films from its theaters
This was inevitable.
AMC Theaters said publicly it will no longer show films made by Universal Pictures. This is over a dispute on the merits of releasing movies in theaters before allowing studios to release on streaming platforms.
The film that finally caused this separation was Trolls World Tour, which has made nearly $100 million in the past three weeks in digital sales, according to The Wall Street Journal.
That $100 million is more revenue than Universal reported for the original Trolls domestic theatrical haul.
There's no denying how impressive the opening for Trolls World Tour has been in these unprecedented times, but this does bring a new element into the continued threat that streaming platforms are creating for the movie theater business.
I don’t think this will ultimately lead to theaters eventually going away or studios severing their ties, but the business side of the industry is getting interesting. Universal has said it plans to re-release Trolls World Tour in theaters when those businesses are allowed to open, but this digital release has raised a lot of eyebrows.
With a rise of streaming and on-demand video platforms, several studios juggle with what a good “theatrical window” is for a film's release. That’s basically the length of time a movie plays in theaters before its release on digital and disc.
Several high-profile figures in Hollywood have maintained this balance of streaming and theatrical releases to keep the familiarity of old Hollywood and this new world of digital platforms and streaming.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a curveball to the industry with studios like Universal Pictures releasing films like The Invisible Man and The Hunt to popular on-demand platforms. Universal also has delayed potential blockbuster films like the Fast & Furious 9 to give them a proper theatrical release.
Trolls World Tour was an “exception,” according to Universal Pictures in the company's hope to “deliver entertainment to people who are sheltering at home." But could this be the new normal? Going to a movie, in theaters, with a family of four on a Friday night, including popcorn, would set you back nearly $60 in Reno. In Los Angeles, that number is closer to $80. Who wouldn’t want to spend a mere $20 to stream the film at home with the freedom to pause and feast at their own leisure?
2. Academy Awards will allow streaming-only to qualify for an Oscar
This wasn't a surprise as several streaming platforms have been trying to crack into the Oscar race for years. Films like The Irishmen, The Two Popes and Marriage Story helped Netflix lead the field at this past Academy Awards show with 24 nominations but failed to win anything really major.
Earlier this week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science announced it will allow some movies released on streaming and digital platforms to qualify for the 2021 Oscars because of the COVID-19 pandemic. There is one major asterisk to this announcement. A movie had to have a previously planned theatrical release.
In the past, a movie would be considered eligible if it had only a seven-day theatrical release in a commercial theater in Los Angeles County. This comes full circle with the film Troll World Tour, which was supposed to have a theatrical release but became a digital exclusive (and quite the moneymaker, see above). Trolls World Tour becomes the first legitimate film that can qualify for Best Animated Picture at the 2021 Academy Awards despite its nontraditional release.
When life begins again and theaters reopen, studios will have to re-release their films for a minimum of seven days and the Academy has agreed to expand its quality theaters beyond just Los Angeles County. Cities now included are New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami and Atlanta.
3. Space Jam sequel officially announced
Sports are hard to come by these days, but stories like this make it all sweeter.
Space Jam, A New Legacy is the long-awaited sequel to Michael Jordan’s 1996 film and is set to release in 2021.
The LeBron James-led sequel will star Bugs Bunny and have cameos from basketball stars like Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson and Diana Taurasi.
LeBron took to Twitter to reveal the new logo and film title. He’s also looking a lot like James Harden with that quarantine beard.