More theaters threaten to hold up Universal movie ‘Tower Heist’


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Fallout in the exhibition industry continues over Universal Pictures’ controversial move to offer its upcoming Eddie Murphy-Ben Stiller comedy on premium video-on-demand just three weeks after it opens in theaters.

On Monday, a number of independent theater chains including Sherman Oaks-based Galaxy Theatres, Regency Theatres in Calabasas and Emagine Theatres of Detroit, vowed not to play the movie “Tower Heist” in any of their locations if Universal proceeds with its plans for the early release.
Additionally, many small cinema houses representing 50 screens around the country have also refused to book the movie.


“We just feel it’s a time to draw a line in the sand,’’ said Rafe Cohen, president of Galaxy Theatres, which operates 106 screens in California, Washington, Nevada and Texas. “This is virtually a simultaneous release that we don’t think will be helpful to anyone. We’re standing on principle that it’s best to preserve the theatrical window.”

Last week, Universal said it would make “Tower Heist,“ which opens in theaters Nov. 4, available to about 500,000 homes in two markets, Atlanta and Portland, Ore., for $59.99 via video-on-demand. The announcement reignited a feud that erupted earlier this year when four studios announced a deal with satellite TV provider DirectTV to make certain movies available in the home 60 days after they opened in theaters for $29.99.

Universal executives have sought to assure theater owners that the “Tower Heist” VOD release would be a test and took pains to brief theater circuits in advance of their plans.

Nonetheless, the move unnerved at least one major exhibitor -- Cinemark USA Inc., the nation’s third largest theater chain -- which last week said it would not show the movie on any of its 3,800 screens unless Universal reconsidered its VOD plans. Theater executives fear that releasing movies in the home less than 90 days after their opening in theaters sets a bad precedent and will eventually encourage consumers to stay at home, rather than trekking to the multiplex to buy tickets.

“We certainly support Cinemark,’’ said Lyndon Golin, chief executive of Regency, which operates 150 screens. “If their position is they won’t run it, then we won’t run it either. Movies shown in the home on such a short window is a dagger to our business.”

A Universal representative declined to comment.



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-- Richard Verrier