As movie theater closures begin to roll through the U.S. in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Universal Pictures announced on Monday that it will release its upcoming animated film “Trolls World Tour” day-and-date on video on-demand April 10. And films already showing in theaters by the studio will be available for digital rental as early as this Friday.
Universal’s two current Blumhouse releases, “The Invisible Man” and “The Hunt,” as well as Focus Features’ “Emma.” will be available on a variety of on-demand services for a 48-hour rental period at a suggested retail price of $19.99. NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said in a statement that this decision was made to give moviegoers more options for home entertainment as officials recommend that the public avoid large gatherings to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
“Universal Pictures has a broad and diverse range of movies with 2020 being no exception. Rather than delaying these films or releasing them into a challenged distribution landscape, we wanted to provide an option for people to view these titles in the home that is both accessible and affordable,” said Shell. “We hope and believe that people will still go to the movies in theaters where available, but we understand that for people in different areas of the world that is increasingly becoming less possible.”
Universal’s decision is one that echoes moves taken by Chinese film distributors two months ago when the virus first began to spread from Wuhan province. As theaters and other businesses nationwide were forced to close down during the economically critical Lunar New Year period, some studios decided to forgo releasing the films they had planned to put out theatrically for the holiday and released them on streaming instead. Among them was the comedy “Lost in Russia,” a major release for rising studio Huanxi Media that was instead put online for free on the company’s streaming service.
Day-and-date release has been a concept thrown around Hollywood for many years now and one that has been fought by the movie theater industry. But the uncertainty created by the coronavirus has now made it an option for companies trying to both profit from films that have had their theatrical releases threatened by the pandemic and avoid a difficult reshuffling of the remaining release slate whenever officials relax their calls for social distancing.
“Trolls World Tour” is a sequel to “Trolls,” a DreamWorks Animation film released in November 2016 that grossed $153 million domestic and $346 million worldwide against a $125 million budget. “World Tour” had been expected to be a popular option for families with kids who were on break from school for the Easter holiday.
Prior to the pandemic, “The Invisible Man” had been a success for Universal at the box office, grossing $64.4 million domestically and $122.7 million globally against a $7 million budget after three weekends in theaters. “The Hunt,” which was released this past weekend, was expected to be less successful with a $5.3 million opening weekend amidst mixed critical and audience reception. “Emma.,” which expanded nationwide last weekend, grossed just over $10 million through this past weekend.