regal cinemas

Tensions have been brewing for years, but war was officially declared last night between movie theater exhibitors and Hollywood studios.

AMC Theatres and Universal Pictures have become mortal enemies thanks to comments made in the wake of Trolls World Tour‘s VOD success, and Regal Cinemas has now lobbed its own hand grenade into this battle. According to a statement from the theater chain’s owners, Regal Cinemas “will not be showing movies that fail to respect the [theatrical] windows.” Looks like AMC has found an ally in this war.

Cineworld issued a statement to Deadline this morning responding to all of the chaos that’s broken out over the past day in the theatrical exhibition community. Cinewold is the world’s second-biggest theater chain, and it owns Regal Cinemas, which is the second-biggest chain in the United States (AMC is the largest).

“Cineworld’s policy with respect to the window is clear, well known in the industry and is part of our commercial deal with our movie suppliers,” the statement begins. A few sentences later: “Universal unilaterally chose to break our understanding and did so at the height of the Covid-19 crisis when our business is closed, more than 35,000 employees are at home and when we do not yet have a clear date for the reopening of our cinemas. Universal’s move is completely inappropriate and certainly has nothing to do with good faith business practice, partnership and transparency.”

But here’s the most important point: “Today we make it clear again that we will not be showing movies that fail to respect the windows as it does not make any economic sense for us. We have full confidence in the industry’s current business model. No one should forget that the theatrical side of this industry generated an all-time record income of $42 billion last year and the movie distributors’ share of this was about $20 billion.”

I’ve seen several outlets suggest that this statement means Cineworld will no longer show any Universal Pictures movie, but I think they’re misunderstanding the intent of the statement. I’ve reached out to Cineworld for clarification, but to me, this doesn’t sound like the same burn-it-all-down approach that AMC has taken, because while that studio has claimed that they’re refusing to show any Universal Pictures movie going forward ever again, Regal seems to specifically be saying that it will not screen movies that studios decide to release theatrically and on VOD simultaneously. Anything else is fair game.

If that’s true, Cineworld/Regal’s stance seems like the smarter of the two: it lets Regal save face with the exhibition community, while also putting them in a position to welcome audiences with open arms into their theaters when F9 and Jurassic World: Dominion come out and AMC turns people away. That’s assuming that AMC stands their ground here, which seems dubious considering that they’ve been reportedly flirting with bankruptcy since even before the pandemic began. You’re telling me they’re going to actively turn away paying customers and send them to another theater chain? The only way AMC’s gambit will work is if every single theater chain bands together and draws the same line, leaving studios with no way to showcase their products. That seems…unlikely, but I suppose stranger things have happened. For now, we’ll just have to wait and see who blinks first in this outsized game of chicken.

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