Universal Pictures is quietly releasing a new version of Cats to theaters, according to the Hollywood Reporter. On Friday, the studio notified exhibitors that a new version, with “some improved visual effects” but the same runtime, would be made available via satellite uplink on Sunday, while theaters that rely on shipping physical hard drives would receive it no later than Tuesday. The studio is asking theaters to replace the currently-screening version of the movie with the updated one as quickly as possible.
Cats, director Tom Hooper’s film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1981 musical, opened Friday to overwhelmingly negative reviews and disappointing box office results, pulling in $2.6 million against Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’s $90 million. At the film’s New York premiere on Monday, Hooper told Variety that he had only finished the movie on Sunday morning, after a 36-hour sprint. Hooper reportedly wanted to further tweak the film’s CGI effects—the fabled “digital fur technology” that made the film’s first trailer such an uncanny delight—and the director requested Universal distribute an updated version.
Although it’s not uncommon for a movie to undergo revisions between film festival showings and theatrical release, or between a theatrical run and home video, theater operators told the Hollywood Reporter that this sort of mid-theatrical-run change is unprecedented. In the days of physical film prints, the cost of making new prints would have been staggering, but digital distribution has slashed those costs to the point that Universal is able to make changes mid-run. There are a few similar incidents in film history: In 1980, Disney pulled The Watcher in the Woods from theatrical screenings after ten days, shot a different ending with a new director, and rereleased the movie a year and a half later. (In that case, it wasn’t that original director John Hough was unhappy with the effects shots that were intended to serve as the film’s finale: They hadn’t even been shot yet, because the studio rushed the release; the film barely had an ending at all.) But Watcher in the Woods was only showing on one screen when Disney pulled it; Cats is in more than 3,000. If the release of Cats version 1.1 goes smoothly, it’s possible we could see more films released in iterative versions like this in the future.
The upshot of all of this is that if you’d like to see the original theatrical version of Cats, you should get to the theater before Sunday. If you’d prefer the version with improved special effects, you can either call your local theater to see when they’re making the switch and plan accordingly, or just wait until after Tuesday when every theater should be showing the new version. Of course, there’s also the option of seeing both versions: Cats superfans will undoubtedly want to attend every screening between today and Friday, to see if they can detect the changes.
Universal did not respond to a request for comment.