Universal's King of Staten Island, a somewhat accurate biopic based on the life of comedian and actor Pete Davison, was abruptly pulled from movie theaters, some of which had already sold tickets to screenings, ahead of its release. The film was always intended to be an on demand release but some miscommunication behind the scenes at Universal lead to about 100 theaters booking screenings for the film. About two days before those screenings could take place, the theaters were told not to screen the film, with director Judd Apatow having to go to social media for an exercise in damage control.
"Insiders at Universal chalked it up to an internal misunderstanding, saying The King of Staten Island was always intended to premiere exclusively on-demand, however some executives unintentionally booked the film in about 100 theaters," Variety reports. "When they realized the mistake, the studio went back to theaters and asked them not to play it."
Apatow took to Twitter, telling his followers, "THIS IS AN ERROR. THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND IS ONLY OPENING ON VOD FRIDAY. IT IS NOT OPENING IN THEATERS.” A Twitter user pointed out that they had bought tickets, prompting Apatow to double down on the message, “It won’t be playing there. It is a mistake. It is only on VOD."
Universal has already had an interesting round of tension with movie theaters ahead of this blunder. The studio pulled a few films from theatrical releases, some of which had opened for merely a week and others which never saw the light of day prior to a nationwide shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. AMC Theaters and Regal Cinemas voiced their displeasure with Universal's choice to send movies like The Hunt and Trolls: World Tour directly to home video options as the chains are already facing adversity and trying to keep moviegoers headed to theaters instead of staying in their living rooms.
Universal is not the only studios sending films straight to digital platforms, though. Warner Bros. sent SCOOB! straight to on demand options and Disney released Artemis Fowl on their Disney+ streaming service.
Ahead of the ordeal, Universal wanted to split ticket sales with theater owners, which is traditionally done with major releases -- something which has been hard to come by this year. Theater owners thought those terms were overly generous in Universal's favor considering The King of Staten Island will be widely available to rent online.
“They wanted 2019 terms in 2020 conditions,” one theater owner said. “This is a new landscape.”