It was going to eventually happen but COVID has sped things up as Warner Bros. is making an earthshaking move when it comes to movie distribution. The studio will send 17 films to HBO Max for 31 days, to be released the same day as theaters.
Wonder Woman 1984‘s HBO Max and theater release on Christmas day was just the tip of the iceberg as more are to come.
The studio’s 2021 slate includes The Suicide Squad, The Matrix 4, Dune, Godzilla vs. Kong, and Space Jam: A New Legacy. Other films include Little Things, Judas and the Black Messiah, Tom & Jerry, Mortal Kombat, Those Who Wish Me Dead, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, In The Heights, Reminiscence, Malignant, The Many Saints of Newark, King Richard, and Cry Macho.
The decision will cause an uproar from theater owners who not only lose in this model but are struggling, and will struggle, to stay open due to the pandemic. The decision, according to reports, was not shared with exhibitors and was kept secret at Warner Bros. The studio will likely need to renegotiate with theater chains and offer up something so to as not completely lose their support.
But, something needed to be done. With a still unknown future and COVID vaccination likely to take most of 2021 the release schedule would be shaky and risky to rely just on theaters. Further delays would hurt the entire industry further creating a backlog of productions and likely cutting numerous projects as held up films would take up future release dates creating a ripple effect.
Ann Sarnoff, chair and CEO, WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group said:
We’re living in unprecedented times which call for creative solutions, including this new initiative for the Warner Bros. Pictures Group. No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do. We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theaters in the U.S. will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021. With this unique one-year plan, we can support our partners in exhibition with a steady pipeline of world-class films, while also giving moviegoers who may not have access to theaters or aren’t quite ready to go back to the movies the chance to see our amazing 2021 films. We see it as a win-win for film lovers and exhibitors, and we’re extremely grateful to our filmmaking partners for working with us on this innovative response to these circumstances.
WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar added:
After considering all available options and the projected state of moviegoing throughout 2021, we came to the conclusion that this was the best way for WarnerMedia’s motion picture business to navigate the next 12 months. More importantly, we are planning to bring consumers 17 remarkable movies throughout the year, giving them the choice and the power to decide how they want to enjoy these films. Our content is extremely valuable, unless it’s sitting on a shelf not being seen by anyone. We believe this approach serves our fans, supports exhibitors and filmmakers, and enhances the HBO Max experience, creating value for all.
Warner Bros. Pictures Group chairman Toby Emmerich also said:
This hybrid exhibition model enables us to best support our films, creative partners and moviegoing in general throughout 2021. We have a fantastic, wide-ranging slate of titles from talented and visionary filmmakers next year, and we’re excited to be able get these movies in front of audiences around the world. And, as always, we’ll support all of our releases with innovative and robust marketing campaigns for their theatrical debuts, while highlighting this unique opportunity to see our films domestically via HBO Max as well.
The films will roll at internationally as planned and the decision is focused on the US audience.