Following the announcement that Walt Disney Picture's wants to shorten the theatrical run of Alice in Wonderland in favor of an earlier home entertainment release, several cinema chains in Europe are threatening to boycott showing the film at all. This is particularly so in the UK and the Netherlands. Some Italian theater chains are also considering similar action.
Walt Disney Pictures is one of several studios that are experimenting with shorter theatrical runs and earlier home entertainment releases of upcoming films, in response to declining DVD sales. Disney said it intended to release the Alice DVD and Blu-ray about three months after the movie appears in theaters, compared with the typical four- to six-month window.
But theater owners, especially in Europe, fear that the decision may dissuade consumers from going to cinemas.
No U.S. theater chains have threatened a boycott yet, although same may pull Alice from screens as soon as the movie is available in various home entertainment formats.
"I'm getting e-mails from my colleagues all across Europe and everyone says ... this is one step too far," said Ad Weststrate, president of the International Union of Cinemas in Europe. "The guys are really fanatic now."
Some European exhibitionists have also complained that Disney had not consulted with them until very recently (unlike their American counterparts).
"It was represented like 'take it or leave,' " said one high-level European exhibition executive who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of discussions. "It was done brutally."
Vue Entertainment Ltd. and Odeon Cinemas, two of the U.K.'s three major cinema chains, currently don't plan to show the film in their theaters, two people familiar with the matter said, although talks remain ongoing.
Britain is the second-largest international market for American movies after Japan, but its potential for Alice is even larger, given that the movie, which cost about $150 million to produce, given that it is based on a British series of books and featuring a largely British cast and crew.
"Anything that would prevent maximizing Alice for the U.K. would be horrible," said Joe Roth, a producer of the film. "This would be one of the biggest pictures of the year in the U.K. But I honestly think this will be worked out."
Despite the dispute, Odeon will still host the "Royal World Premiere" of Alice at its flagship theater in London's Leicester Square next Thursday.