Why Russia Shortened 'Paddington 2' Release Delay Last-Minute

Paddington 2 International Trailer Still - H 2017

The movie came out over the weekend, although the culture ministry initially insisted on pushing back the release to Feb. 1.

Russia's culture ministry over the weekend gave in to pressure from exhibitors in the country and a public outcry, allowing Paddington 2, previously pushed back to Feb. 1, to be released on Saturday, just two days after the original release date.

The ministry's decision last week to issue the movie an exhibition license for a Feb. 1 release date as opposed to Jan. 18, announced just 24 hours before the movie was scheduled to open, caused a huge controversy.

Technically, the ministry has, for two years, the authority to move foreign releases to avoid collisions with major homemade movies, but it used it for the first time with Paddington 2, and did it in what observers say was a clumsy way.

By the time the delay was announced on Wednesday, cinemas had already pre-sold a large number of tickets for Paddington 2, which was one of the main reasons for discontent among movie theater operators and the general public.

The culture ministry didn't provide reasons for the delay, but it was widely believed to have chosen to push back the release to give favorable treatment to the homemade movies Skif (Scythian), released on Thursday, and Dvizheniye Vverkh (Three Seconds), which has been in theaters since Dec. 28 and is already the highest-grossing Russian movie of all time.

As film distributors and movie theaters criticized the delay of the Paddington 2 release, media attacked the culture ministry for preventing people from watching the family movie and members of the general public vented their discontent on social media, the agency held a meeting late on Friday and decided to issue Paddington 2 an exhibition license with the Saturday, Jan. 20 release date.

The Russian association of movie theater owners called the decision to push back the release date "rude interference" with their operation. "The bear found himself in a bad situation," one user said on the forum of movie web site KinoPoisk as movie fans spoke out about the delay.

Paddington 2 is distributed in Russia by Volga, which declined to comment on the situation. The culture ministry and the movie's production company, StudioCanal, did not reply to The Hollywood Reporter's request for comment.

The culture ministry drew even more industry ire when it threatened to fine theaters for pre-selling tickets for the movie before the exhibition license was issued, the RNS news service reported. "All theaters that illegally pre-sold tickets will have to be fined or punished in some other way," culture minister Vladimir Medinsky was quoted as saying by RNS on Monday. 

However, theaters highlighted that they didn't break any actual laws. "Under the law, screening of movies without an exhibition license is prohibited," cinema chains Formula Kino and Cinema Park said in a statement. "Ticket pre-sales are not."

To actually punish movie theaters for pre-selling tickets to films that don't yet have an exhibition license, the ministry would have to initiate changes to the law, which would take months.

While some local producers singed a letter last Friday in support of the culture ministry's original decision, the general consensus in the film industry is that local movies should be protected against Hollywood, but in a reasonable way.

"[Producers] need to make movies that are persuasive and attractive for viewers and compete in a fair way," Alexander Rodnyansky, producer of Andrei Zvyagintsev's Loveless, shortlisted for the Oscars, said in a column for Snob magazine. "However, when it comes to Hollywood, it's not fair competition because amounts spent on support of those movies are incomparable with what the film industry of Russia or any other country can afford."