Universal Pulls “The King of Staten Island” From Drive-In Theaters

Another shift in film distribution during the pandemic

Still from "The King of Staten Island"
This movie is no longer coming to a drive-in theater near you.
Universal Pictures

Due to COVID-19 shuttering movie theaters across the country for the time being — and, in some cases, until next year — plenty of aspects of film distribution have changed. Whether that’s a temporary thing or something permanent remains to be seen. It has left its mark on award qualifications, however, with the Academy changing its rules for eligibility for 2020.

A number of high-profile films have had their release dates pushed back into the fall or next year. But a controversy has developed over one of the highest-profile films to shift directly to a VOD opening and eschew theaters altogether. That would be Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island, notable for being one of the first adult-oriented films (along with Josh Trank’s Capone), to embrace a VOD release.

Given the presence of a big-name writer-director in Apatow and a high-profile leading man in Pete Davidson, you’d think that The King of Staten Island would be playing on big screens across the country under any other circumstances. But what’s notable about its release is that it’s not playing on any big screens at all — even in cases where some are available.

According to a new report by Rebecca Rubin at Variety, Apatow’s film had been booked to play in a number of drive-in theaters across the United States. Note the past tense: two days before it was set to open, Universal informed those theaters that it was pulling the film. Rubin’s report cites an internal issue at the distributor as causing the problem:

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. When they realized the mistake, the studio went back to theaters and asked them not to play it.

The timing has, unfortunately, left those theaters in the uncomfortable position of having to issue refunds and find something new to fill those gaps in their schedule. Given Universal’s ongoing feud with theater chain AMC, it’s another wrinkle in terms of how to best distribute films during a pandemic.

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