In an industry-shaking move, Warner Bros. has announced that they will release their entire 2021 slate simultaneously in theaters and HBOMax. This includes such eagerly awaited fan fare as The Matrix 4, The Suicide Squad, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune and Godzilla vs Kong. The films will show for one month on HBOMax and then remain in theaters with a normal release schedule to VOD and home media.

Other films affected: In the Heights, The Many Saints of Newark, The Little Things, Judas and the Black Messiah, Tom and Jerry, Mortal Kombat, Those Who Wish Me Dead, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, Space Jam: A New Legacy, Reminiscence, Malignant and King Richard. 

WB already announced that the long delayed Wonder Woman 1984 would be given simultaneous release, but the move to put the entire year’s output on streaming is an absolute shocker that will upend the entire entertainment business — even more than it already had been by the pandemic.

Variety reports, in a piece aptly called “Shattered Windows”:

WarnerMedia chair and CEO Ann Sarnoff referred to the model as a “unique one-year plan.” Executives at the company have stressed the initiative isn’t expected to continue into 2022 or beyond — it’s considered a temporary solution in response to the ongoing global heath crisis.

“We’re living in unprecedented times which call for creative solutions, including this new initiative for the Warner Bros. Pictures Group,” Sarnoff said in a statement. “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,” she continued. “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.”

It’s a sign of how tenuous the US theatrical market has become, with more than 60% of US theaters in some form of shutdown, and no relief in sight. According to studio chief Toby Emmerich,  “Unfortunately, the U.S. has been one of the most hobbled markets in terms of theatrical. Outside the U.S., in places like China, South Korea, Japan, parts of Western Europe, our films will only be available in theaters. We think those markets can perform better.”

suiside quad poster.jpegWB tried an actual theatrical release over the summer, when infection rates were lower, with Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, but box office was lackluster and the film will lose millions, according to Variety. Undoubtedly this experience led to some hard thinking within WB.

WB’s parent, AT&T, is already hobbled with billions in debt from purchasing the studio, and how having an entire year of expensive films debut on home streaming will affect the bottom line is head-spinning to contemplate.

At the very least it gives more people a reason to subscribe to HBOMax, whose launch was marred by many factors, and is still not available on Roku, one of the most common home streaming services.

But the bottom line is: To make any money these films must be seen:

“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,” said WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar. “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.”




  1. Sad that Warner is willing to kill theaters to prop up their pathetic streaming service. But this development has been predicted for quite a while. It was just a question of which studio would jump first. Warner’s management team is convinced — like Disney’s — that streaming is the future, and that’s what they’re betting the company on.

    Last week’s No. 1 movie, the horror comedy FREAKY, grossed only $1 million in U.S. theaters. The No. 2 movie, THE WAR WITH GRANDPA, made only $733,000. Warner and the other studios are looking at figures like this and panicking.

  2. On the one hand, it makes sense from the business side. That’s 15+ films sitting on a shelf making absolutely no money for Warners/ATT. On the other hand, theaters are going to feel this impact terribly. And it seems so unlikely that people will return to theaters in any kind of large numbers for 2021, what else can Warner do? Release them onto the big screens, take the financial hit, and then feel like they are peddling damaged goods? It’s a lose-lose all around.

    And how will Warner justify this contractually for each of those films? Wouldn’t most of them probably have contract stipulations for percentage points from the box office, or requirements to play in theaters before any secondary market? Sounds like they didn’t clear the decks with the producers before announcing this.

    On the other hand – those are all business decisions that do not matter to me at all as a consumer. I subscribe to HBO Max (which is 2 bucks more a month than Netflix) and it’s a terrific value. I laugh at every one of these articles complaining about it’s terrible streaming service, because that hasn’t been my experience at all. So this is absolutely great for me. Now I actually will get to see Dune, and not have to wait till middle 2022 (if it had played in theaters in late 2021, since I never would have gone into a close theater). As a movie watcher, this is great for me.

    This is big business admitting what everyone fears – 2021/2022 is not going to go back to the “normal” of 2019.

  3. HBO Max is the best conglomerate-owned streaming service. (Criterion Channel is the best of all.) It offers a treasure of genuine classics, foreign films, Looney Tunes, etc. Netflix is awful if you’re looking for movies made before the ’80s. Disney is sitting on the Fox library but shows few movies from it — and they won’t show anything R-rated on Disney-Plus.

    Unfortunately, HBO Max has less than 10 million subscribers, while Disney-Plus has 70M and Netflix more than 200M.

    Film critic Mark Harris tweeted that the studios no longer care how you watch movies, as long you watch in a way that makes financial sense for them. He surmises that Warner looked at the bottom line and decided it made more sense to grow HBO Max than wait for more theaters to open.

    I expect more studios to release big movies to streaming services while theaters remain closed in the biggest markets, New York and Los Angeles.

  4. Frankly, I doubt I would have paid to see most of Warner’s upcoming slate in theaters — and I likely won’t stream them either. It’s heavily weighted toward IP. I have no interest in reboots of Mortal Kombat, Space Jam, and The Matrix. And sorry, Devin, I don’t want to see Dune either.

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