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.”
WB 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.”