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AMC Is Still In the Theater Business, But VOD Is a Funny Way of Showing It

Meanwhile, Melissa McCarthy goes to HBO Max, Netflix buys out movie palaces, and Edward Norton curses crappy projection. None of this makes theater chains look good.

AMC Theater

AMC Theater

AMC

Was I the only one who found it weird when AMC Theatres announced that it was getting into the streaming business with the launch of AMC Theatres On Demand? When it comes to places to buy and rent movies, we’ve got Apple, Amazon, Fandango, Vudu, Google Play, YouTube, and a few more that I don’t need to remember because it’s too many already.

I also thought it suggested some seriously mixed messaging, but maybe that was just me… until I got a call from an NBC affiliate who wanted to do an interview about AMC’s new streaming service. That seemed like a curious topic for local news; why were they interested? The answer: They wanted to know if it meant AMC was getting out of the theater business.

Of course, AMC is very much dedicated to theatrical business, but this is a funny way of showing it. Launching a platform for VOD transactions — something that runs counter to going out to the movies — is not what I’d expect a theater chain to worry about right now. There’s far more pressing issues at hand, starting with the sacred cow of The Theatrical Experience.

It’s the theme of every CinemaCon, repeated like rosary as exhibitors and distributors take the Caesars Palace stage and talk about how worldwide audiences continue to share the primacy of “the theatrical experience.” However, that audience also has the option to stay home with their couches, pause buttons, and very large TV sets to watch an infinite number of entertainment options. By contrast, choosing to go to the theater means spending a lot of time, money, and effort on a very small selection of premium products. So whether you’re going to the AMC to see “Avengers,” or to the Alamo to see “Parasite,” the act of going to the movies is now a bespoke experience.

But is that what chain theaters deliver? If you’re Alamo with the fun beers on tap and no commercials and weird short films, sure. If you’re a chain that inspired the ire of Edward Norton, who encountered low-light projection and “crappy sound” while preparing for the November 2 nationwide release of “Motherless Brooklyn,” that would be no. “It’s the theater chains that are destroying the theatrical experience,” he said. “Period, full-stop. No one else.” Meanwhile, he sang the praises of Netflix as it “represents an unprecedented period of ripe opportunity for many more types of stories and voices to be heard.” (Netflix is also looking at a long-term lease for the tony, single-screen Paris Theater in Manhattan. Oh, the irony.)

Netflix turned to the Paris, the Belasco, and the Egyptian as showcases for Oscar contenders “Marriage Story” and “The Irishman” because major chains won’t let them book their theaters — but a much more significant threat to exhibitors is coming from inside the house. This week, Warners chose to move Melissa McCarthy’s Christmas title, “Superintelligence,” out of theaters and on to its upcoming streaming platform, HBO Max, which is scheduled to launch sometime next spring.

Melissa McCarthy and Ben FalconeWB 'The Big Picture' Presentation of Our Upcoming Slate, CinemaCon, Las Vegas, USA - 2 Apr 2019

Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone at the Warner Bros. Cinemacon presentation, April 2019

Rob Latour/Shutterstock

Speaking to Deadline, McCarthy spun it as all being the idea of her husband, director Ben Falcone:

It was actually Ben’s idea, it came from the filmmaker himself, We had a release date, a full marketing plan, and I had all my press lined up. We were really ready to go. When the announcement came that HBO Max was really happening, Ben had this idea. And we thought, is this better? Different doesn’t mean worse, and how are we watching films ourselves? To us, each movie is near and dear to our hearts. You just want people to see it and love it and you want them to feel good. “Superintelligence” at its core is, love wins, and people matter. I want that to get to as many people as it can. We need that today, and this seemed like the best way to do it. So no, [this wasn’t imposed on us]. We were ready to go the other way, and we decided to make the detour.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if the idea came from Falcone, or from the studio (sources told IndieWire that the film didn’t test well). What matters is this is likely the first of many films in which a distributor weighs its options: Invest many millions and see what you get back from theatrical, or substantially fewer millions on a global streaming platform and see what you generate in subscribers? Studios may find themselves following in Netflix’s footsteps and sorting their slates: These movies demand a theatrical investment, and these will do well on streaming.

Last May, when HBO Max was only a twinkle in the eye of current WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey, Warners released the McCarthy and Falcone comedy “Life of the Party;” at $53 million domestic, it wasn’t a blockbuster. But with box office on track to fall nearly 6% behind 2018, exhibitors need every $53 million they can get. And with almost every major studio now tied to a streaming outlet, they now have a no-friction solution for theatrical releases that might struggle: What’s dull on the big screen can look very shiny on the smaller ones. And, as McCarthy said: “How are we watching films ourselves?”

Increasingly, we’re watching them at home. But probably not on AMC Theatres On Demand.

Here’s some of the best work from this week on IndieWire:

Disney’s Most Valuable Screenwriter Has Had Enough of the ‘Strong Female’ Trope, by Kate Erbland
Linda Woolverton, the woman who brought Belle, Maleficent, and a billion-dollar animated movie to Disney, speaks her mind.

Large-Format Cameras Are Changing Film Language, From ‘Joker’ to ‘Midsommar,’ by Chris O’Falt

With the advent of cameras like the Alexa 65, a new generation of large format filmmaker is using its immersive qualities in exciting ways.

Peak TV Is Only a Concern in the Gated Community of Hollywood, by Libby Hill
The average Joe doesn’t care about “The Morning Show.” They already have all the TV they need — and can afford.

‘Bombshell’ and ‘Jojo Rabbit’ Share an Oscar Superpower: They’re Made For the Mainstream, by Anne Thompson
Films like “Parasite” and “Pain and Glory” are critical darlings, but the truth is that when it comes to Oscar votes, popularity counts.

Is ‘This Is Us’ Making You Seasick? You’re Not Alone, by Leo Garcia
Digital image stabilization mixed with the show’s penchant for shaky camera work make it seem as if certain scenes were filmed out at sea.

Disney+: 200 Must-Watch TV Shows & Movies Available on Launch, by LaToya Ferguson

From the beloved “Star Wars” trilogies to the Marvel Cinematic Universe to Pixar’s greatest achievements, here’s the best of the content that will be available to subscribers for $6.99 a month.

Have a great weekend,

Dana

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