NEW YORK — The coronavirus pandemic has cracked Hollywood’s traditional theatrical window. With theaters increasingly shuttering nationwide, Universal Pictures on Monday said it will make its current and upcoming films available for on-demand rental, becoming the first major studio to turn directly to home viewing in light of the virus.

The studio said it will put movies currently in theaters – “Invisible Man,” “The Hunt,” “Emma” – up for rental on-demand beginning as early as Friday. It also said that “Trolls World Tour,” one of the only major releases left on the April film release calendar, will open “day-and-date,” debuting in theaters and on-demand services simultaneously. A 48-hour rental will cost $19.99.

The move came as theaters worldwide have closed and many North American cinemas are shuttering. On Sunday, the mayors of New York and Los Angeles ordered their cities’ theaters shut. Theaters in Massachusetts and Quebec have also closed. Overseas, most European cinemas have shut down, as have those in China, India and elsewhere.

Major theater chains in the U.S. have attempted to stay open in areas where they hadn’t been forced to close by government officials. AMC Theaters, the largest movie chain in North America, said Monday it will limit attendance at all screenings to 50 people to adhere to the CDC’s latest social distancing guidelines.

Over the weekend, ticket sales plunged to their lowest levels in at least 20 years at the box office for U.S. and Canadian theaters. Not since a quiet September weekend in 2000 has weekend box office revenue been so low, according to data firm Comscore. More people went to the movies the weekend after Sept. 11, 2001.

“Rather than delaying these films or releasing them into a challenged distribution landscape, we wanted to provide an option for people to view these titles in the home that is both accessible and affordable,” said NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell in a statement. “We hope and believe that people will still go to the movies in theaters where available, but we understand that for people in different areas of the world that is increasingly becoming less possible.”

The extraordinary move marked what could be seen as either a watershed moment for Hollywood or an aberration due to extremely unusual circumstances. With few exceptions, the major studios have guarded the usual 90-day exclusivity window even as digital newcomers like Netflix and Amazon have challenged it. For the studios, box office still represents the industry’s primary revenue generator. Last week, the Motion Picture Association said worldwide ticket sales reached $42.2 billion last year.


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