U.S. movie theaters have closed nationwide due to the coronavirus pandemic, turning dark nearly all of the country’s 40,000-plus screens in an unprecedented shutdown.
The largest chains had tried to remain open even as Hollywood postponed its upcoming release plans and guidelines for social distancing steadily diminished the recommended size of crowds. AMC Theaters, the nation’s largest chain, said Tuesday its theaters would close altogether instead of limiting crowds to ten.
AMC said the latest guidelines made movie theater operations “essentially impossible.” It said it would close all locations in the U.S. for at least six to 12 weeks. Regal, the second largest chain, said Monday that its theaters would close until further notice.
With movie theaters locked down for the foreseeable future, some studios took the extraordinary step of funneling new or recently released films onto home viewing platforms. Universal Pictures said Monday it will make its current and upcoming films available for on-demand rental, becoming the first major studio to break the traditional theatrical window of 90 days.
The studio said it will put movies currently in theaters — “Invisible Man,” “The Hunt,” “Emma” — up for rental as early as Friday. It also said that “Trolls World Tour,” one of the only major releases left on the April calendar, will debut in theaters and on-demand services simultaneously. A 48-hour rental will cost $19.99.
Major studios have guarded the 90-day exclusivity window even as digital newcomers like Netflix and Amazon have challenged it. For the studios, box office still is the primary revenue generator. Last week, the Motion Picture Association said worldwide ticket sales reached $42.2 billion last year.
NBCUniversal is prepping its own streaming service, dubbed Peacock, but it isn’t to launch until July 15. On Sunday, the Walt Disney Co. made “Frozen 2” available on its streaming service, Disney Plus. But that film had already completed its theatrical run. Its digital release didn’t break the traditional 90-day theatrical exclusivity window.
Paramount Pictures’ “A Quiet Place Part II,” earlier slated for release Friday, has been removed from the schedule. Disney’s “Mulan” and the James Bond film “Die Another Day” have been put off. Universal earlier pushed its latest “Fast and Furious” movie, “F9,” from late May to April of next year.