- The pandemic has resulted in movie studios renegotiating theatrical windows with exhibitors.
- Shorter windows will last after the pandemic and change distribution strategies for years to come.
- Insider laid out how each major Hollywood studio is collapsing the theatrical window.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Hollywood and the theatrical industry have faced significant changes during the pandemic, and the results will last long after it’s over.
Movie studios have embraced streaming in unprecedented ways over the last year. Warner Bros. is releasing its entire film slate simultaneously to theaters and on parent company WarnerMedia’s streaming service HBO Max this year. Disney announced last week that “Cruella” and Marvel’s “Black Widow” will premiere this summer in theaters and on Disney Plus for an additional $30 fee on the same day, following other “Premier Access” titles like “Mulan” and “Raya and the Last Dragon.”
But those strategies don’t eliminate the theatrical experience. Studios and movie theaters will just have a very different relationship going forward and consumers will have more options to watch movies than ever before.
Day-and-date releases, in which a movie is available to rent or stream the same day it hits theaters, may not be a regular occurrence after the pandemic like they are now. But the traditional theatrical window, in which theaters played movies exclusively for 75 to 90 days, will no longer be the industry standard for many movies. Some studios have already struck deals with major theater chains to considerably shrink the window and release movies to streaming or digital-rental platforms earlier.
“I think the old window concept was so outdated,” Harold Mintz, the president of the movie-grading company CinemaScore, told Insider last month. “The pandemic forced it [to evolve], but it was bound to happen eventually … most movies are played out [in theaters] after three weeks so it just makes sense.”
Here’s where each of the five major movie studios stand on the post-pandemic theatrical window:
Warner Bros. and Cineworld struck a deal for a 45-day window.
Last week, Warner Bros. and the theater chain Cineworld, which owns Regal Cinemas, announced a multiyear agreement beginning in 2022 that Warner Bros. movies will play exclusively at Cineworld theaters for 45 days before being made available to stream or rent online.
The deal follows other studio/theater agreements that hint at the new normal.
Warner Bros. did not return a request for comment on whether it is negotiating with other theater chains to shrink the window. Cineworld, for its part, said on Thursday that it’s in active talks with with other studios about the evolving window.
Adam Aron, the CEO of the world’s largest chain, AMC Theatres, said in December that AMC “will aggressively pursue economic terms that preserve our business” in response to Warner Bros.’ 2021 distribution strategy.
Universal was the first to shrink the window after a feud with AMC Theatres.
Universal was ahead of other studios at nearly every step throughout the pandemic. It was the first to move a major tentpole release, “Fast and Furious 9,” by an entire year. It was the first to release a movie, “Trolls: World Tour,” straight to digital-rental platforms.
And it was the first to strike a deal with a major theater chain to shrink the theatrical window for all of its movies.
Universal’s “Trolls: World Tour” decision rubbed AMC Theatres the wrong way after NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said in April last year that the studio would release movies to both theaters and digital platforms after theaters reopened. Aron, the AMC CEO, said in a statement after Shell’s comments that the chain would not be playing future Universal movies.
The feud was short-lived.
In July, Universal and AMC reached an agreement to shorten the window to just 17 days, at which point Universal can choose to release movies to digital-rental platforms. It has since reached a similar agreement with Cinemark (movies that gross $50 million or more in their opening weekends will have 31-day windows under this agreement).
Paramount will stream some tentpole movies after 45 days in theaters.
Paramount’s parent company, ViacomCBS, launched the rebranded and expanded version of CBS All Access this month called Paramount Plus. And with it came a look at the company’s future plans for the theatrical window.
Paramount will move upcoming tentpoles “A Quite Place Part II” (in theaters May 28), “Top Gun: Maverick” (July 2), and “Mission: Impossible 7” (November 29) to Paramount Plus after a 45-day theatrical window. Other titles will have a 30-day window.
A Morning Consult and Hollywood Reporter survey of 2,200 US adults, conducted from February 18 to February 21, found that 29% of respondents were likely to subscribe to Paramount Plus. But 35% of respondents would be more likely to subscribe to Paramount Plus to watch “Mission: Impossible 7.”
Disney and Sony have yet to announce new theatrical-window deals with exhibitors.
Disney has reorganized around its streaming business amid the pandemic and Disney Plus, which has surpassed 100 million subscribers since launching in November 2019, will be a major part of the company moving forward.
But Disney hasn’t announced any new windowing agreements with theater chains beyond its decision to release some movies, like “Black Widow,” to Disney Plus and theaters simultaneously. The company has said that theaters will still be a major part of its business going forward, but has hinted at shorter windows in the future.
“The consumer is probably more impatient than they’ve ever been before, particularly since now they’ve had the luxury of an entire year of getting titles at home pretty much when they want them,” Disney CEO Bob Chapek said earlier this month. “So, I’m not sure there’s going back. But we certainly don’t want to do anything like cut the legs off a theatrical exhibition run.”
Disney declined to comment for this story on its future windowing plans.
Sony is the other major studio that has not announced any new windowing deals. It doesn’t have a streaming component like the other major studios, but has embraced streaming in some cases (it sold the Tom Hanks movie “Greyhound” to Apple last year).
But the studio doesn’t see the traditional window as outdated, according to a person familiar with Sony’s thinking. The studio isn’t having wide-ranging conversations with theaters at this time, the person said, and plans to evaluate movies on a case-by-case basis.
In other words, if a Sony tentpole like “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” is a box-office smash, it may not leave theaters early.