Universal Pictures announced on Wednesday that it is moving the release of DreamWorks Animations: “The Croods: A New Age” from December 23 to November 25, 2020.
The move comes five days after Warner Bros. moved “Wonder Woman 1984” to a Christmas Day release, putting it in competition with the “Croods” sequel. The film is now set for release on Thanksgiving weekend, where it is set to compete against Disney/Pixar’s “Soul” provided that theaters stay open nationwide.
“The Croods: A New Age” will be the first DreamWorks Animation release since “Trolls World Tour” made the move from theatrical release to premium video on-demand (PVOD), beginning a new experiment in Hollywood as studios try to find alternate revenue streams while movie theaters grapple with pandemic-induced instability. Released for an initial rental price of $19.99, “Trolls World Tour” was a financial success for Universal, reportedly earning over $100 million in PVOD sales after just a month in release.
But the shift to PVOD also triggered a seismic shift in the relationship between studios and theaters and specifically between Universal and the nation’s largest theater chain, AMC Theaters. After NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell commented to the Wall Street Journal that the studio would try PVOD with future films, AMC CEO Adam Aron sent an open letter informing Universal that it would no longer screen the studio’s films at its locations unless new terms on distribution were discussed.
That ultimatum prompted new talks that led to a landmark deal allowing Universal to release its films on PVOD after three weekends of theatrical release in exchange for undisclosed profit sharing on those films with AMC. Assuming that AMC’s locations are open on Thanksgiving weekend, the new release date of “Croods 2” would give Universal the opportunity to release the film on PVOD in mid-December, possibly opening it up to strong sales from families looking for a movie to watch during the holidays at home while steering clear of theatrical competition from “Wonder Woman 1984.”
While the rest of the exhibitor industry has yet to make a similar PVOD deal with any studio, the “Croods” move will likely be seen as some relief that studios have yet to entirely abandon plans to release films in 2020. That has become a real concern after “WW84,” along with Universal/MGM’s “Candyman,” moved out of October. That has left next month’s slate with almost no major releases, which could seriously damage reopened theaters as Warner Bros.’ “Tenet” took in just $6.7 million last weekend for a per theater average of approximately $2,300.
“Croods 2” will bolster the November slate, but it still remains to be seen whether other studios with releases that month will also commit. MGM has set the 007 film “No Time to Die” for release on that month, while Disney once again holds the biggest tentpoles with “Black Widow” and “Soul.” A move for any of those films — or a nationwide resurgence of COVID-19 infections — could force movie theaters back into widespread shutdowns.