Universal Ups Year-End Theatrical Slate; Studying Release-Window Data

Universal Pictures is doubling the number of movies it plans to release in theaters before the end of the year. The studio made waves earlier this year putting erstwhile theatrical release Trolls World Tour into homes via premium VOD in April. That was followed by a 17-day theatrical window/revenue-sharing PVOD agreement with AMC Theatres — Universal’s way of throwing the ailing exhibitor business a lifeline.

While the studio, like most majors, has pushed back numerous tentpole titles to 2021, including most-recently the next Fast and Furious installment, F9, to Memorial Day 2021, Universal will release at least seven movies at the box office through the end of the year — more than any other major studio.

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Upcoming theatrical releases include Let Him Go (Nov. 6),  Freaky (Nov. 13), The Croods: A New Age (Nov. 25), All My Life, Half Brothers (Dec. 4), and News of the World, Promising Young Woman (Dec. 25). Freaky and The Croods will also be available on PVOD 21 days and 28 days, respectively, after their box office debut.

“They need us; we need them,” Donna Langley, chairman Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, remarked about exhibitors in a media statement. “Everyone is looking for solutions during the pandemic for the short term and long term.”

‘Mulan’ Tops Vudu Chart, ‘Love and Monsters’ Leads FandangoNow Chart

Disney’s Mulan topped the Vudu chart and Paramount’s Love and Monsters led the FandangoNow chart the week ended Oct. 18.

Both are transactional video-on-demand services owned by Fandango.

Mulan, the live-action remake of the Disney animated classic, became available for $29.99 premium purchase at the services Oct. 6. The title had previously been exclusively available via Disney+. It came in at No. 2 on the FandangoNow chart.

Love and Monsters, available via premium VOD and digital purchase Oct. 16, takes place seven years after a “monsterpocalypse” — giant monsters taking over the Earth’s surface — forces all of humanity to move into underground colonies. It came in at No. 2 on the Vudu chart.

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Vudu’s top 10 titles for the week ended Oct. 18, in terms of revenue, were:

  1. Mulan
  2. Love and Monsters
  3. My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising
  4. Batman: Death in the Family
  5. Trump Card
  6. Ava
  7. Hocus Pocus
  8. Happy Halloween, Scooby-Doo!
  9. Alone(Magnolia)
  10. Beetlejuice


FandangoNow’s top 10 titles for the week ended Oct. 18, in terms of revenue, were:

  1. Love and Monsters
  2. Mulan
  3. Trump Card
  4. Antebellum
  5. My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising
  6. Ava
  7. Alone(Lionsgate)
  8. An Imperfect Murder
  9. Batman: Death in the Family
  10. Cut Throat City

Studio Bosses ‘Rooting’ For Theatrical Turnaround

With the nation’s movie exhibitors either shut down and or hamstrung by COVID-19 safety protocols, the industry is eyeing fiscal ruin as studios push back major releases until next year and wary moviegoers stay home.

Speaking Oct. 15 on a virtual panel at the 2020 Milken Global Conference, Donna Langley, chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, and Ann Sarnoff, CEO of WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, were asked if the studios would consider acquiring financially distressed theaters after a federal court in August struck down the 1948 Paramount Decrees abolishing studio ownership of movie theaters.

“We have no plans to do that currently,” Langley said, sharing a sentiment echoed by Sarnoff, who said “We have no plans either.”

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The executives’ unanimous responses underscore just how far exhibitors such as AMC Theatres and Regal Cinemas have fallen. It was just a year ago that the theater industry generated $11 billion in revenue — a tally that is projected to plunge 80% in 2020. Now, Regal has re-shuttered all North American and U.K. screens indefinitely, and AMC Theatres parent AMC Entertainment announced it would run out of cash by the end of the year without more borrowing.

“I’m kind of an armchair sociologist and I believe people want to have communal experiences and especially with certain genres,” Sarnoff said in a nod to select tentpole titles such as Wonder Woman 1984, which is still slated to release in theaters on Christmas Day — and multiple delays.

“We’re big fans of the exhibitors,” Sarnoff said. “They’ve been good partners of ours for many decades. We’re rooting for them. I know it’s tough sledding right now. I’m hoping they come out on the other side, probably even stronger.”

Langley said Universal also remains committed to theaters despite Universal Pictures more proactively embracing premium VOD and transactional VOD than any other studio. Indeed, Universal this summer succeeded in getting AMC Theatres to agree to a 17-day theatrical window in exchange for sharing PVOD revenue.

“It took Covid-19 to demonstrate that it is not cannibalistic but it is, in fact, additive,” Langley said of PVOD. “It will enable us to continue to make movies and put them in theaters.”

Sarnoff said Warner Bros. has grappled with the concept of early release PVOD and digital retail, saying that doing so might seem an easy option, when in reality it is messing with tradition.

“It’s not so easy as it’s happening, because oftentimes these are new moves that you’re making so you have to think about all of the constituents,” Sarnoff said. “You have to think about your fans and what they want, and predict what the results are going to be without any market data.”

Paramount’s Eddie Murphy Sequel ‘Coming 2 America’ Going to Amazon Prime Video

Chalk up another loss for the theatrical market. Paramount Pictures has reportedly licensed rights to the Eddie Murphy sequel Coming 2 America to Amazon Prime Video for $125 million. The movie, co-starring original headliners Murphy and Arsenio Hall, is slated to bow on Prime Dec. 18 — the same date as the original theatrical launch, according to Deadline, which first reported the move.

Co-stars in the sequel, in which Akeem (Murphy) learns he has a long-lost son in the United States and must return to meet the unlikely heir to the throne of Zamunda, include Tracy Morgan, Wesley Snipes, Leslie Jones and Jay Pharaoh.

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Amazon had been relatively quiet on content spending in 2020 compared with rivals Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max and Apple — reportedly slated to spend $6 million on original content this year before the coronavirus hit.

Now the deal represents another high-profile theatrical steal for Amazon Studios under the direction of Jennifer Salke, following deals for Sasha Baron Cohen’s second Borat flick, and Dave Bautista’s My Spy.

The 1988 original Coming to America was a blockbuster for Paramount, generating $128 million at domestic screens and $288 million worldwide — just behind Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Rain Man.

The transaction leaves just four high-profile studio movies still on the theatrical calendar in 2020, including Open Road’s Honest Thief on Oct. 16; 20th Century’s Free Guy starring Ryan Reynolds on Dec. 11; Death on the Nile with Kenneth Branagh reprising Agatha Christie’s Belgian sleuth detective Hercules Poirot on Dec. 18; and Warner Bros.’ Wonder Woman 1984 on Christmas.

Studios have repeatedly pushed back big-budget releases to 2021 as theaters grapple with pandemic closures and limited seating at screens that are open. With Warner’s espionage thriller Tenet failing to bring consumers in the U.S. back to the cineplex, the domestic box office is trending nearly 80% below 2019 levels.

Universal Ups Shortened Theatrical Window Slate

Universal Pictures is reportedly set to release the low-budget horror movie Freaky and the sequel The Croods: A New Age on premium VOD less than 30 days after their theatrical bow.

Freaky, the Happy Death Day spinoff starring Vince Vaughn, will debut in theaters Nov. 13, followed by a PVOD release 21 days later. The Croods hits theaters Dec. 4, and will be available for home viewing on PVOD 28 days later. Universal and AMC Theatres share in the PVOD revenue.

Universal and AMC made headlines earlier this year when they agreed to cut the theatrical window to 17 days (with a minimum of three weekends) for select new studio releases that are slated for PVOD release subsequent to their theatrical openings.

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Universal revived PVOD earlier this year after theaters were shuttered in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A month later the studio claimed the animated DreamWorks theatrical release Trolls World Tour had generated $100 million in PVOD revenue. That revelation led other studios, including box office stalwart Disney, to try PVOD. Disney on Sept. 4 made actioner Mulan available exclusively to Disney+ at a $29.99 purchase price.

AMC, which had long fought against PVOD and shortening the theatrical window, changed its mind over the summer as the bulk of its screens remained shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now the chain says it will run out of cash despite operating 86% of its domestic screens, albeit with reduced seating capacities.

“There’s no question that theatrical will some day [again] be a central element to our business and film business, it’s how people make their movies and how they expect their movies to be seen,” Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal said earlier this year. “But the flip side is the majority of our movies, whether we like it or not, are being consumed at home, it’s not realistic to assume that we’re not going to change, that this part of the business isn’t going to change like all parts of the business are going to change.”

‘Mulan’ Tops FandangoNow, Vudu Charts

Disney’s Mulan topped the Vudu and FandangoNow charts for the week ended Oct. 11.

Both are transactional video-on-demand services owned by Fandango.

The live-action remake of the Disney animated classic became available for $29.99 premium purchase at the services Oct. 6. The title had previously been exclusively available via Disney+.

Coming in at No. 2 on the Vudu chart was Vertical Entertainment’s action film Ava, starring Jessica Chastain. The film, which became available for TVOD Sept. 25, follows a deadly assassin who works for a black ops organization, traveling the globe specializing in high-profile hits. When a job goes wrong, she is forced to fight for her own survival. It landed at No. 3 on the FandangoNow chart.

Happy Halloween Scooby-Doo! took the bronze on the Vudu chart, while other family-friendly Halloween titles Hocus Pocus (No. 6) and Beetlejuice (No. 10) also landed among the Vudu top 10.

Taking the silver on the FandangoNow chart was Trump Card, an anti-socialism documentary from conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza.

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Vudu’s top 10 titles for the week ended Oct. 11, in terms of revenue, were:

  1. Mulan
  2. Ava
  3. Happy Halloween, Scooby-Doo!
  4. Trump Card
  5. 2067
  6. Hocus Pocus
  7. Antebellum
  8. Alone
  9. The King of Staten Island
  10. Beetlejuice


FandangoNow’s top 10 titles for the week ended Oct. 11, in terms of revenue, were:

  1. Mulan
  2. Trump Card
  3. Ava
  4. Antebellum
  5. Cut Throat City
  6. An Imperfect Murder
  7. The Doorman
  8. The Wolf of Snow Hollow
  9. Save Yourselves!
  10. Bill and Ted Face the Music

‘Greenland’ Going to PVOD Dec. 18

The action movie Greenland, starring Gerard Butler, is set to launch on premium VOD in the United States beginning Dec. 18 as a $19.99 48-hour rental. Adam Fogelson, chairman of the STXfilms Motion Picture Group, said the movie has been a hit at the box office in 24 territories outside the U.S.

In Greenland, a family fights for survival as a planet-killing comet races to Earth. John Garrity (Butler), his estranged wife, Allison (Morena Baccarin), and young son, Nathan, make a perilous journey to their only hope for sanctuary. Amid terrifying news accounts of cities around the world being leveled by the comet’s fragments, the Garritys experience the best and worst in humanity.

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Greenland has been a hit everywhere in the world, so it’s exciting to bring it to American audiences on PVOD,” Fogelson said.

Butler and director Ric Roman Waugh teamed in 2019 for the actioner Angel Has Fallen, which grossed nearly $147 million worldwide.

Greenland has performed better than Angel Has Fallen in most territories. The film has generated more than $45 million in revenue for STX on a $35 million production budget. Greenland continues to roll out theatrically in international markets where the film opened No. 1 this past weekend in Italy and New Zealand. The movie will be available on HBO and to stream on HBO Max in 2021 after its transactional home entertainment run. HBO reportedly paid $20 million to $30 million for the streaming rights.

Thriller ‘Spell’ Coming to PVOD and Digital Oct. 30

The horror thriller Spell will be released on PVOD and digital Oct. 30, in time for Halloween, from Paramount Home Entertainment.

The film will also be released in select theaters.

Omari Hardwick (“Power,” Sorry to Bother You), Loretta Devine (“Black-ish,” Crash) and John Beasley (The Sum of All FearsThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks) star.

In the film, while flying to his father’s funeral in rural Appalachia, an intense storm causes Marquis (Hardwick) to lose control of the plane carrying him and his family. He awakens wounded, alone and trapped in Ms. Eloise’s (Devine) attic, who claims she can nurse him back to health with the Boogity, a Hoodoo figure she has made from his blood and skin. Unable to call for help, Marquis desperately tries to outwit and break free from her dark magic and save his family from a sinister ritual before the rise of the blood moon.

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Disney Expanding ‘Mulan’ PVOD Access to FandangoNow, Vudu

Disney’s high-profile premium video-on-demand (Premier Access) experiment, releasing the live-action movie Mulan to Disney+ subscribers, is now expanding to FandangoNow and Vudu.com.

Disney will make the movie available Oct. 6 on Vudu and FandangoNow, with pre-orders available now for the same $29.99 purchase price in SD, HD or 4K UHD currently offered to Disney+ subscribers.

Consumers pre-ordering Mulan on Vudu will get a $3 credit toward other movies and TV shows on the platform upon the film’s release. The movie was first released on Sept. 4.

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In mid-September, Yahoo! Finance, citing data from 7Park Data, reported that the movie had been purchased by 9 million Disney+ subscribers for $29.99 each through Sept. 12. That figure suggests the $200 million budget movie generated an impressive $270 million in direct-to-consumer revenue. A representative form 7ParkData later clarified on Twitter that they had estimated Mulan was watched by 29% of people watching Disney+ over the debut weekend, not total subscribers, which lowered estimated revenue to about $60 million to $90 million.

Unlike a typical PVOD transaction that gives a viewer a limited time period, usually 48 hours, to watch the movie, Premier Access is set up to allow Disney+ subscribers to pay the premium fee to unlock the movie on Disney+ for as long as they are subscribers, effectively giving those who pay early access to the movie before it becomes available to all subscribers in a few months.

‘The Craft: Legacy’ Coming to PVOD, Digital Sellthrough Oct. 28

The Craft: Legacy will be available in time for Halloween Oct. 28 on PVOD for a 48-hour rental period at $19.99 and for digital purchase at $24.99 from Blumhouse Productions, Red Wagon Entertainment and Columbia Pictures.

An international theatrical release is anticipated in several territories, with details to be solidified in the weeks ahead, according to the producers.

A continuation of the 1996 film The Craft, in which aspiring teenage witches get more than they bargained for as they lean into their newfound powers, the film is written and directed by Zoe Lister-Jones and stars Cailee Spaeny (Bad Times at the El Royale, On the Basis of Sex), Gideon Adlon (The Society, Blockers, The Mustang), Lovie Simone (Selah & the Spades, Greenleaf), Zoey Luna (Pose, Boundless) and Nicholas Galitzine (Cinderella), with Michelle Monaghan and David Duchovny.

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“I’m thrilled to be able to share The Craft: Legacy with audiences all over the world this Halloween,” Lister-Jones said in a statement. “It’s been a true privilege to take on such an iconic title. I can’t wait for the world to meet the incredible young women who make up our new coven.”

“Zoe Lister-Jones has put a bewitching twist on continuing The Craft franchise, and October is the perfect season for it,” producer Jason Blum said in a statement. “We’re thrilled that our partners at Sony Pictures are looking at the landscape opportunistically this Halloween, for audiences to watch at home in the U.S.”