Universal will release films currently in theaters as $20 rentals starting Friday

Universal Studios is planning to release some of its newest films that are still in the middle of their theatrical runs — including The Invisible Man, The Hunt, and Emma. on digital platforms to rent for $20 starting this Friday. Furthermore, the upcoming Trolls World Tour, which was set to release in theaters on April 10th, will now also be available to rent on demand the same day it hits theaters, via Deadline.

The announcement comes after a historically poor weekend at the box office across the board, one that saw overall figures bring in just $55.3 million — the worst numbers for this week of the year since 1995. Of Universal’s current theatrical films, The Invisible Man and Emma. saw 60 percent and 72 percent drops, respectively, compared to last weekend, numbers that will likely get worse this coming weekend as an increasing number of states (including New York and Maryland) set to shutter all theaters entirely to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Major chains like AMC and Regal are also planning to cap attendance by 50 percent in locations where they are open.

That studios would cut short a theatrical run of a movie in favor of digital rentals — even at $20, which is about five times as much as the nearly standard $3.99 price on Amazon, iTunes, and other digital retailers — is nearly unprecedented in Hollywood.

The reason is simple: movies make far more money in theaters than they do through sales and rentals. It’s one of the main reasons movie theaters as an institution exist at all, as opposed to simply just releasing every film directly to customers. For an idea of how big a paycheck Universal is potentially missing out on, the original Trolls made over $346 million at the box office in 2016. Early projections estimated the sequel to fail to bring in quite those numbers, but Universal is still likely to lose money compared to a normal theatrical run.

Sales and rentals of DVD and digital copies of movies account for just a fraction of the revenue brought in by a theatrical run. Last year alone saw movie purchases and rentals accounted for a combined $9.3 billion across digital and physical formats, per a report from DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, compared to the record $42.5 billion generated by the worldwide box office in 2019.

The move from Universal in releasing these films early is the latest major impact that the coronavirus — and the measures to try to prevent the spread of the virus — has had on the film industry. Multiple films, including massive blockbusters like Disney’s live-action Mulan remake, No Time to Die, and the ninth Fast & Furious movie, have already been delayed due to the virus. Multiple film and TV productions from Disney, Warner Bros., Netflix, and other studios have also been put on hold as the virus continues to spread, which could result in delays for future films, too.