Over this past weekend, Universal Pictures debuted Trolls: World Tour, the sequel to the animated hit that garnered notable cash flow at the box office when it debuted in theaters, a critical note for this article’s discussion, exclusively on VOD platforms, skipping the entire theatrical cycle amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. At first glance, the move spelled a desperate move to recoup some profit from a release that could have very easily lost Universal money. However, on April 13th, after Universal’s press release announcing the film’s record-breaking debut, World Tour might just sneak its way into the history books of revolutionary cinema. To know the facts, Universal confirmed earlier today that Trolls: World Tour beat Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’s digital opening day debut by ten times, after topping the charts at all of the digital platforms such as iTunes. That means World Tour nabbed an estimated thirty million just from its opening day, even pushing it past Avengers: Endgame’s thirty million on digital in one week. However, it is worthy to point out Fallen Kingdom and Endgame debuted first in theaters with a massive splash whilst Trolls: World Tour jumped straight to digital.
Even with such constraints, the achievement that Universal made over the weekend cannot be understated. For one, it signals that the consumer market is ready for a digital-only release for blockbuster productions and that the studio can glean notable revenue from the method. A thirty million opening day debut for a VOD-only release, especially for a film like Trolls: World Tour, which certainly wasn’t topping any Most Anticipated list heading into 2020, means that even more popular releases could see the financial success they would not have obtained in theaters. Expect to see other moderate blockbusters like The New Mutants to follow this trend. But what does this mean for the film industry post-COVID-19?
In truth, the ramifications of a VOD-exclusive debut can only truly be predicted by additional films following this method. If other films on the same popularity with the public can attain similar or even greater success to Trolls: World Tour, then it is possible that more films will forego the theatrical cycle even after the coronavirus pandemic draws to a close, but such an outcome still isn’t guaranteed. In fact, a large portion of Trolls’ success, from my perspective, is a result of younger children being left with few outlets for entertainment. Parents likely jumped at the opportunity to show their younger ones a new film like Trolls: World Tour even at the hefty twenty-dollar price tag for a forty-eight-hour rental. More adult films wouldn’t be able to have such an advantage in the VOD market which is now becoming a constant war of studios fighting to keep their titles relevant in what is an over-saturated environment. The more likely result of Trolls: World Tour after the quarantine period is studios beginning to release some of their films simultaneously on digital and in theaters, a move similar to what Warner Bros. considered for their 2017 Justice League film. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. never pulled the trigger on such a release plan, opting for the usual theatrical cycle, but this pandemic and Universal’s readiness to adapt to a new, industry-changing plan has pulled back the curtains on the potential of the VOD market. All that matters now is whether the rest of the industry will bite the bullet.