Universal will rent new movies like Fast & Furious online just 17 days after theaters

And AMC theaters won't ban Universal movies anymore, which includes franchises like the Fast & Furious and the Jurassic World movies.

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Joan E. Solsman
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Film Title: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Universal's franchises include the Jurassic World movies. 

Universal Studios

Universal will release new movies to rent online just 17 days after they premiere in theaters, a major change from the standard months-long period that theaters traditionally have enjoyed exclusive dominion over new films. This deal, between Universal and theater chain AMC, ends AMC's promised ban on all Universal pictures, which include blockbuster franchises like the Fast & Furious and Jurassic World movies. 

Terms of the deal weren't disclosed. 

Universal was one of the first studios to test its fortunes in the coronavirus pandemic by essentially skipping theaters in favor of online rentals, when it released Trolls World Tour as a digital rental in April on the same day the film was available in a sprinkling of theaters. That experiment triggered outrage from AMC, which like all cinemas has clung tightly to the traditional 75-day (or longer) window that theaters usually get to exhibit new movies exclusively before films move to other formats. 

In retribution for Trolls World Tour violating those standards, AMC vowed that all Universal movies would be banned from its screens. 

But Trolls World Tour -- a DreamWorks Animation movie under the umbrella of Comcast's NBCUniversal -- ended up dominating home viewing stores the weekend it was released. It was the top on-demand title on Amazon, Comcast, Apple, Vudu, Google/YouTube, DirecTV and FandangoNOW, and it did about 10 times the business of the studio's next biggest opening day for a traditional digital release, NBCUniversal said. 

Tuesday, Universal and AMC said their new agreement includes at least three weekends, or 17 days, of theatrical exclusivity for all Universal Pictures and Focus Features movies, at which point the studio can choose to make its titles available in premium video on demand stores, including through AMC Theatres On Demand. Premium video-on-demand, or PVOD, usually means limited-period rentals at a higher price, and they can be available on a range of online stores like iTunes and Amazon Video. 

Universal's standard timing for online movie sales and lower-priced rentals won't change, they added.

"The theatrical experience continues to be the cornerstone of our business," Donna Langley, the chairman of Universal's filmed entertainment group, said in a statement. "The partnership we've forged with AMC is driven by our collective desire to ensure a thriving future for the film distribution ecosystem and to meet consumer demand with flexibility and optionality." 

AMC CEO Adam Aron noted that the first three weekends of release are when the considerable majority of a movie's theatrical box office revenue typically comes in. And "just as restaurants have thrived even though every home has a kitchen, AMC is highly confident that moviegoers will come to our theaters in huge numbers in a post-pandemic world," he said. 

"Universal and AMC have partnered in bringing stellar movies to moviegoers for a full century," he said. "With this historic industry changing agreement, together we will continue to do so and in a way that should drive success for us both."

In the coronavirus pandemic, studios have mostly decided to postpone the release of their biggest new movies, like No Time to DieMulanF9 and A Quiet Place Part 2 as theaters remain closed, and coronavirus concerns are likely to keep many people out of cinema seats for the foreseeable future. But as the pandemic stretches on, studios are coming up against the difficulty that some of their films must be released other ways, with the heavy stacking of delayed movies sure to depress box-office performance even when theaters do reopen. 

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