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As Bond Vacates 2020, Universal Offers Theaters Short Windows on ‘The Croods’ and ‘Freaky’

Exclusive: As Universal offers multiple exhibitors a short-window deal and encourages day-and date, it's an offer that few can refuse.

“The Croods: New Age”

DreamWorks

Adding to the Friday-afternoon dump of movie delays, Universal announced that “F9,” the latest entry in the “Fast and Furious” franchise, will move from April 2 to May 28, 2021. That means it will no longer compete with James Bond film “No Time to Die,” which, as of October 2, MGM also moved to April 2, 2021.

These shifts leave theaters in a new-product desert. They also put Universal in a strong position to make its first short-window arrangement under the deal it made with AMC Theaters this summer. IndieWire has confirmed that “Freaky” (November 13) and “The Croods: A New Age” (November 25) will go quickly to PVOD: 21 days for “Freaky” (December 4) and 28 days for “The Croods” (December 23). Universal is also offering the titles to other theaters, with the same terms.

AMC, which is struggling under cash shortages and a junk-bond rating, agreed to the studio’s option under their deal: Universal can offer titles to other theaters as early as 17 days into its domestic release. Those terms also include some revenue sharing, as well offering titles on AMC’s streaming site. Given its pole position as the nation’s largest exhibitor, AMC also can provide most of the screens to the potential audience.

Although 17 days, or the third weekend, is the minimum length for theatrical exclusivity under the Universal-AMC deal (and the number that earned the most attention in the initial announcement), Universal proposes the length of the theatrical runs on a case-by-case basis. (Technically this is a negotiation, but the studio has the upper hand.) AMC was the first to agree to Universal’s terms, but the studio has made it clear that they’re available to any theater chain.

Sources suggest that while other exhibitors may be reluctant, some are willing to meet the proposal’s terms. (Regal and Cinemark, the other two major circuits, are unconfirmed.) With “Trolls,” Universal has already shown that it’s also willing to go PVOD exclusive and avoid theaters altogether.

“Freaky” from Blumhouse Prods., is a “Happy Death Day” spinoff starring Vince Vaughn. Another low-budget (around $5 million) slasher comedy, it now stands as the next studio release. “The Croods” sequel comes after the still-planned November 20 release of Pixar’s “Soul.”

According to one source, Universal couched the offering by “encouraging” theaters to continuing playing when PVOD starts. That velvet glove has a steel hand since there’s little else to play in November. Recent discussions with exhibitors reinforce the resignation that although major chains still want to fight the idea, distributors are now in control.

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