Universal announced Monday that “Trolls World Tour,” a sequel to 2016’s animated musical, landed the biggest debut for a digital release. The studio took a bold step last weekend in launching the film on premium video on demand and in a handful of drive-in cinemas, marking the first major title to bypass a traditional run on the big screen since the coronavirus pandemic shut down most theaters.
Universal declined to provide any statistics to contextualize or support the superlative, but noted that “Trolls World Tour” is the No. 1 title across major on-demand video platforms, such as Amazon, Comcast, Apple and FandangoNow. Universal also said the movie had the biggest opening day and weekend for a digital title, generating approximately 10 times more than the next-largest traditional premium home video release. The studio did not disclose box office earnings from the 21 drive-in locations that played the “Trolls” sequel this weekend.
FandangoNow backed up the online benchmark, reporting Monday that “Trolls World Tour” generated the best weekend sales in the history of the VOD streaming service.
“Following weeks of anticipation for its home premiere, ‘Trolls World Tour’ is now FandangoNow’s streaming debut champ, with the best preorders, first day and opening weekend sales we’ve ever seen,” FandangoNow head Cameron Douglas said in a statement. “We’re pleased that families looking for a much-needed entertainment break are enjoying DreamWorks Animation’s latest movie on our service.”
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“Trolls World Tour” is notable because it is the first big-budget film to break the standard theatrical window, which is traditionally 90 days, and open simultaneously on home entertainment platforms. Patrons were charged $19.99 to rent the movie, geared toward family crowds, for 48 hours.
Almost every Hollywood tentpole that was set to debut through early summer has been delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent closure of movie theaters. However, Universal opted to keep the release date for “Trolls World Tour,” despite almost all cinemas — aside from about 20 drive-in locations — being indefinitely shuttered. The decision was mainly because the studio was deep into its marketing campaign for the film, which included multiple brand partnerships. It would have been too costly to shelve it for a later date.
Some studios have followed suit, to varying degrees. Paramount sold romantic comedy “The Lovebirds,” starring Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae, to Netflix while Disney sent sci-fi fantasy “Artemis Fowl” straight to Disney Plus, the studio’s streaming service.
Universal also said Monday that the studio’s titles made available in the home early, including Blumhouse’s “The Invisible Man” and “The Hunt,” and Focus Features’ “Emma,” continue to be well embraced as families stay home due to social distancing measures.
It’s unclear if “Trolls World Tour” will make as much money on premium digital platforms as it would have in theaters followed by home entertainment. Premium VOD figures aren’t reported in the same fashion as traditional box office grosses, and since there isn’t much comparable data, sources at Universal say the studio plans to wait for a clearer picture of results over the next few weeks before disclosing more specific statistics.
For now, industry experts are wondering if it will be possible for “Trolls World Tour” to turn a profit while forgoing a traditional run in movie theaters, since tentpoles rely heavily on box office ticket sales. The first film was a modest hit on the silver screen, collecting just under $350 million globally. Universal shelled out $100 million to produce the follow-up, and spent tens of millions more in global marketing fees.
That means if “Trolls World Tour” hopes to get out of the red, the cartoon musical adventure will have to keep rocking on TV sets for some time.