Universal's gamble to bypass a theatrical release for "Trolls World Tour" and release it on demand instead appears to have paid off -- big time. On Tuesday, the studio reported that the sequel to the 2016 animated hit has scored nearly 5 million rentals since its April 10 debut and earned close to $100 million in digital rental fees.
"Trolls World Tour" has already produced $77 million in revenue, more than the original 2016 animated movie did for the studio, an individual with knowledge of the figures told TheWrap. The original, produced with a $125 million budget, grossed $153.7 million domestically and $346.9 million worldwide. (The production budget on "World Tour" was about $90 million, the individual said.)
But unlike with theatrical grosses, which are split evenly with movie theaters, Universal retains roughly 80% of digital rental fees -- which were set at a higher-than-usual level of $19.99 for "Trolls World Tour."
Universal has also earned $60 million in $19.99 digital rentals from four other titles -- "The Invisible Man," "The Hunt," "Emma" and "Never Rarely Sometimes Always" -- that had been in theaters when cinemas nationwide shut down and were released early on demand, according to the individual.
"The results for 'Trolls World Tour' have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD," NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell told the Wall Street Journal. "As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats."
On Monday, the studio in fact announced that Judd Apatow's new Pete Davidson-led comedy "The King of Staten Island" would also bypass its planned June 19 theatrical release and premiere on demand instead.
The success of the digital-only release of a big studio film like "Trolls" could set the stage for further conflict between studios and exhibitors, which have long insisted on a 90-day window between the release of a movie in theaters and its availability to consumers at home. Those windows, which have been eroding in recent years, could collapse altogether in the current environment -- and studios may be loath to restore them when the pandemic subsides and movie theaters reopen.
But while "Trolls World Tour" broke records in VOD sales on platforms like Amazon Prime, Apple and NBCUniversal parent Comcast's Xfinity service, the film also benefited from a dearth of competition from new Hollywood studio product, a stuck-at-home audience looking for new content and a pricey marketing push that was initially intended for a full theatrical release.
As movies first started to shift on the release slate due to the coronavirus pandemic, Universal was swift to move up the at-home release of "Trolls World Tour" and planned to release the animated sequel day-and-date on VOD and in theaters over Easter weekend. Universal release the film in 21 drive-in theaters that have remained open across the country, but with traditional theaters shuttered across the country, the animated sequel effectively made its debut digitally.
Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake lead the voice cast of "Trolls World Tour," which is a sequel to the 2016 DreamWorks Animation film from 2016 "Trolls." Poppy (Kendrick) and Branch (Timberlake) discover that they are but one of six different Trolls tribes scattered over six different lands and devoted to six different kinds of music: Funk, Country, Techno, Classical, Pop and Rock. "Trolls World Tour" is directed by Walt Dohrn, who also served as co-director on the original film.