The world’s largest cinema chain, which owns Odeon Cinemas, has said it will refuse to screen any Universal Pictures films in a row over the future of theatrical releases.
NBCUniversal boss Jeff Shell trumpeted the success of Trolls World Tour following its video on-demand release earlier this month, after it earned an estimated 100 million dollars (£80 million).
Its theatrical run was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, he said Universal, known for blockbuster franchises including Fast & Furious and Jurassic World films, may release movies in both formats even when cinemas reopen following the outbreak.
This drew a blistering response from Adam Aron, the boss of cinema chain AMC, who accused the company of wanting to “have its cake and eat it too”.
He said AMC will not licence any Universal film in its 1,000 theatres around the world.
In a strongly worded letter to Universal Studios chairwoman Donna Langley he said: “Accordingly, we want to be absolutely clear, so that there is no ambiguity of any kind. AMC believes that with this proposed action to go to the home and theatres simultaneously, Universal is breaking the business model and dealings between our two companies.
“It assumes that we will meekly accept a reshaped view of how studios and exhibitors should interact, with zero concern on Universal’s part as to how its actions affect us.
“It also presumes that Universal in fact can have its cake and eat it too, that Universal film product can be released to the home and theatres at the same time, without modification to the current economic arrangements between us.”
Mr Aron said the move was “not some hollow or ill-considered threat” and will be enforced when AMC’s theatres open.
It comes at a time of increasing anxiety for theatre owners, whose business model is already under threat from the rise of streaming.
Universal, one of the major Hollywood studios, issued a response, saying it “absolutely believes in the theatrical experience and made no statement to the contrary”.
But it also echoed Mr Shell’s earlier comments and reiterated its plans to release future films on multiple platforms.