Though trolls are generally a social menace we would all do well to keep out of our lives, recent events led to Dreamworks raking in a wild amount of money off them—by putting Trolls World Tour out directly on demand due to movie theatres across the world being closed amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
According to a new report from the Wall Street Journal, Trolls World Tour managed to make $US100 ($154) million in just three weeks as a digital release, a figure that’s larger than the first Trolls film’s entire theatrical gross, spanning its initial five-month run in theatres. With five million downloads at about $US20 ($31) a pop, Trolls World Tour’s success makes sense, especially considering how the film dropped at a time when large swaths of people are sheltering in place and looking for sources of entertainment that don’t require them to leave their homes.
It’s worth pointing out that World Tour hasn’t fully eclipsed the first film’s total gross because Trolls, in spite of itself, similarly went on to perform well during its own initial digital release. At the same time, though, World Tour’s ability to perform that well as a digital-first movie—currently a digital-only movie—could potentially send a significant signal to other film studios that this might just have to be the pivot for the foreseeable future until the pandemic has been curtailed.
Currently, Disney’s one of the only other studios that’s gone forward with a plan to push one of its big ticket films (Artemis Fowl) to digital instead of putting it into theatres. But the situation there is somewhat different as the movie’s dropping on Disney+, and the logic at work seems to be using it to lure people onto the streaming service with the hopes of keeping them there long term.
Unsurprisingly, there are more than a few movie theatre owners who weren’t exactly pleased to hear that Dreamworks managed to snag a moderate success at a time when cinemas across the country aren’t open. Following the Wall Street Journal’s report, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) put out a statement expressing that it doesn’t feel as if Trolls World Tour’s VOD performance should be looked at as a sign of things to change in coming months, given how being able to physically see a movie in a theatre is part of the experience that many people love.
“This performance is indicative of hundreds of millions of people isolated in their homes seeking entertainment, not a shift in consumer movie viewing preferences,” the statement read. “It is not surprising that people under shelter-in-home ordinances for weeks on end with increasingly limited entertainment options would take advantage of the movie’s direct-to-VOD move to keep children entertained, even at a premium price.”
Of course, NATO members have a vested interest in pushing back against these sorts of VOD releases as they would represent a legitimate threat to their businesses, and to be fair, the organisation did make the valid point that Trolls World Tour was initially marketed as having a theatrical release that never materialised.
What’s going to be interesting to see is how studios with films not explicitly aimed at children decide to proceed as the year continues, and would-be theatergoers make the call whether they feel safe enough to actually head to cineplexes. This probably isn’t at all the future that Hollywood as a whole saw for itself, but difficult times call for difficult decisions to be made.