So How’d Trolls World Tour Do?

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Each Monday for a long time now, Plugged In has dutifully reported on the weekend box office.

Then that dreaded C-thing showed up. Coronavirus shuttered businesses everywhere—including, obviously, theaters. And that meant our weekly Movie Monday report has gone into mothballs temporarily as well.

Movie studios are still very much in the process of trying to figure out how to respond to this crisis. Many big films have pushed back release dates until later this year, next year or even indefinitely. After all, the multi-million-dollar investments in these properties demands an optimal environment to seek the best possible return.

And all of that is a somewhat rambling prelude to my focus today: Trolls World Tour.

This sequel from Universal Pictures has become something of an experiment, a litmus test for whether a new way of distributing big-budget Hollywood movies is potentially viable. Here’s why.

Universal priced a 48-hour on-demand rental at $20. There are two ways to look at that price point. The way the studio hoped people would see goes something like this: “Man, what a bargain. We couldn’t take our family to the movies for less than $50 or $60. Where do I download it?” On the other hand, I’ve talked to several friends who enjoyed the first film who said something to the effect of, “Twenty bucks to rent a movie? Are you kidding me? No way.” To them, the comparison was not theatrical prices, but what they’d normally pay to stream other movies on-demand, typically between $4and $6. And I have to confess, I’d personally lean in the latter direction.

Interestingly, though, enough consumers chose Option A to push Trolls World Tour into record—if strangely unreported—territory, revenue-wise. Unlike a normal box-office update, Universal hasn’t revealed  a single, solid figure for the sequel. Instead, deadline.com reports:

Trolls World Tour did 10 times that of Universal’s previous opening-day digital champ, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which according to home entertainment sources did around $2 million-3 million stateside on day one. Avengers: Endgame, per sources, had a first digital domestic rental week of $30 million in flash reports, and the extrapolation off first-day numbers is that Trolls World Tour will far exceed the figure amassed by the Russo Brothers-directed sequel.

So all we know for sure (we think) is that Trolls World Tour managed to make $30 million or so in its home-based opening weekend. That number might have been seen as underperforming for a franchise animated sequel. But the economics are different. Whereas studios usually see about 55% revenue from theatrical releases, the percentage is significantly higher, around 80%, for an on-demand release.

Combine that with lower distribution costs, and you can see how some in Hollywood might begin to question whether the age-old theatrical release model is the only viable path to releasing a big-budget movie. Indeed, theaters are struggling mightily during the coronavirus shutdown, and they’re none too pleased about the possibility of their longstanding monopoly on first-run movies eroding further, according to the Los Angeles Times.

At the end of the day, the jury is still out regarding the extent to which Trolls World Tour’s apparent success marks a new chapter in the way movies are distributed, or whether it was just an aberration spawned by pent-up demand that will recede when theaters eventually reopen.

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Miss Priss 4 months ago
It was an aberration. People are going to be desperate to get out of the house once the shelter-in-place edict is lifted. As a matter of fact, any studio that knows that it has a stinker on its hands would be smart to make sure that their movie is the first to hit theaters once they open back up. People will be so happy to be out of the house that they will go see anything no matter how bad it is. 
seraph_unsung 4 months ago
Thanks so much for sharing this. I completely agree with you, and I think $20 to rent a movie on a small screen is ridiculous.  My IMAX tickets for Endgame and Star Wars cost only a few dollars more than that.

I don't know about everyone else, but I like the crowds.  I like the atmosphere of sharing a movie with hundreds of others, and I think it's much less distracting than trying to watch a movie at home but having any number of things that demand to be checked on.  Likewise it would be much more difficult for studios to push "see the movie in 3D!!" as a money-making add-on since 3D televisions never really seemed to catch on for home use, and even people with the money to buy really large televisions don't always have the space for one due to their living arrangements.

I hadn't thought of getting stinker movies into theatres ASAP after this is over, but that's a brilliant idea.

Likewise.  High-speed Internet access is still not universally available across the United States (I've noticed that some people who don't live in the U.S. tend to be surprised and even shocked by that), and there are a number of places where people have to contend with either low speeds, a data cap, or in some cases both (I remember those days and don't ever want to relive them).  Just imagine the added traffic load that ISPs would have to contend with whenever a Marvel movie came out and was streaming-only.  I could easily see ISPs start to say, "If you don't pay us extra, you can't stream that new movie at anything above 1080p for a week until our traffic load slows down," if they even allow that.  Remember the controversies a few years ago about ISPs selectively throttling certain kinds of Internet usage?  They'd have even more of a reason to do that if new movies started going streaming-only or streaming-primary, and I'm surprised they haven't already done so (Netflix and YouTube were reducing streaming quality in Europe starting a month ago https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/19/tech/netflix-internet-overload-eu/).