When Warner Bros. announced that “Wonder Woman 1984” would land on the streaming service HBO Max on Christmas, the same time it debuts in theaters, many expected it to be an isolated case in response to an unprecedented pandemic.
Instead, the studio will deploy a similar release strategy for the next 12 months. In a surprising break from industry standards, Warner Bros.’ entire 2021 slate — a list of films that includes “The Matrix 4,” Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” remake, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical adaptation of “In the Heights,” “Sopranos” prequel “The Many Saints of Newark” and “The Suicide Squad” — will debut both on HBO Max and in theaters on their respective release dates. The shocking move to simultaneously release movies day-and-date underscores the crisis facing movie theaters and the rising importance of streaming services in the wake of a global health crisis that’s decimated the film exhibition community.
This was, in short, an absolutely stunning bit of news to hit midday today.
With the Disney+ release of Pixar’s Soul and the HBO Max release of Wonder Woman 1984 hitting on Christmas Day, I had a feeling one of the studios was going to start testing the waters for this type of move next year — COVID numbers and vaccine response pending — but I didn’t think we’d see an announcement this big, this soon.
For those wondering the full scope of the WB schedule of next year, here’s more movies to come:
Warner Bros.’ 2021 release slate also includes Denzel Washington’s thriller “The Little Things,” biographical drama “Judas and the Black Messiah,” a remake of “Tom and Jerry,” “Godzilla vs. Kong,” video game adaptation “Mortal Kombat,” “Those Who Wish Me Dead,” “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” “Reminiscence,” James Wan’s “Malignant” and sports drama “King Richard.”
Potential hit after potential hit, and you can get them all at home…with the caveat that they’re only on the service for a month…and then they’ll go through the standard home release/after home release shell game until they return to…HBO Max.
This definitely cannot be good news for theaters. I mean, word came today that AMC was going to have to sell even more stock to stay afloat (again), so, unsurprisingly, the CEO of AMC, Adam Aron, hates this news.
“These coronavirus-impacted times are uncharted waters for all of us, which is why AMC signed on to an HBO Max exception to customary practices for one film only, ‘Wonder Woman 1984,’ being released by Warner Brothers at Christmas when the pandemic appears that it will be at its height,” he said. “However, Warner now hopes to do this for all their 2021 theatrical movies, despite the likelihood that with vaccines right around the corner the theatre business is expected to recover.”
Aron said his chain, which operates 659 locations as the largest U.S. exhibitor, is being asked to subsidize HBO Max.
“Clearly, Warner Media intends to sacrifice a considerable portion of the profitability of its movie studio division, and that of its production partners and filmmakers, to subsidize its HBO Max start up. As for AMC, we will do all in our power to ensure that Warner does not do so at our expense. We will aggressively pursue economic terms that preserve our business. We have already commenced an immediate and urgent dialogue with the leadership of Warner on this subject.”
I’ve got bad news for him.
And Disney? The crown jewel? They’re “focus[ing] on streaming”, and they’ve got more to announce on December 10th.
Tick-tock, theaters. The future is here. And it may not involve you.