Theater Owners Angry At Universal About 'Trolls World Tour' Digital Release As Box Office Hits Zero

The movie landscape is in a weird place right now. Most theaters are shut down at the moment, and studios are trying to compensate by releasing their films digitally earlier than expected. All but one of these early digital releases have been films that previously opened in theaters, but that one exception – Trolls World Tour – has the potential to cause a serious rift between Universal Studios and theater owners. Meanwhile, with movie theaters effectively shut down, the box office has officially hit zero for the first time.

With coronavirus shuttering most movie theaters, Universal made the unprecedented decision to bypass the theatrical window altogether for their upcoming Trolls World Tour. And that move isn't sitting very well with theater owners. Speaking with THR, John Fithian, chief of the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), says that theater owners are bound to be mighty angry about this move.

"For all the movies that had been scheduled for release during April and May, every other distributor announced delays to later times," Fithian said. "But they still intend to release those delayed movies theatrically...But all of the movies with originally planned release dates in April and May, with the one exception of Trolls, will be released later theatrically, with full theatrical windows. All those other studios demonstrated their belief that the theatrical model is still essential to their business, they just had to delay release dates because of the virus."

Fithian then added:

"Only Universal, and only on Trolls, did one studio skip the theatrical model and go straight to the home. Universal continues to advertise to consumers that Trolls will be released simultaneously to theaters and the home on April 10. And they are lying to consumers. Universal knows that theaters will still be closed on April 10, so unlike every other distributor who must simply delay their releases in that time period, but still understand that theatrical release is essential to their business model, Universal on Trolls didn't make that decision. Exhibitors will not forget this."

Fithian also said that with the exception of Universal, "every studio has gone overboard to reassure exhibitors that the theatrical model works for them." The "exhibitors will not forget this" warning has the same over-dramatic tone as Papa John saying "There will be a day of reckoning!", but I understand where Fithian is coming from here. Theaters across the country are going to be hit hard by being closed down, and there's a real chance many might not ever recover. That's why NATO is lobbying Congress for assistance – and you can help with that by going here. That link helps reach out to the powers-that-be with the following message:

Nearly all movie theaters in the United States are dark. Tens of thousands of cinema employees are out of work. Tell Congress to help movie theaters and their employees survive this period so that they can remain resilient and come back strong when this crisis is over.

Meanwhile, in case you needed another reminder of how dire things are, THR is here to remind us that since virtually every movie theater in the country is closed right now, the box office Nothing. Nada. Goose egg. There's no money to be made because nothing is showing. And all we can do right now is wait around and see when, if ever, things will get back to normal.