WarnerMedia shook the foundations of the theatrical distribution business when it announced Thursday, and released the above trailer, that it would release its movie slate in theaters and on HBO Max on the same day, starting with the Christmas Day release of Wonder Woman 1984.
The announcement breaks the pact, which was growing increasingly tenuous during the pandemic, between movie studios and movie theaters that guarantees theaters an exclusive run before streaming and cable windows open. But with theater attendance severely curtailed during COVID-19, studios are looking for other ways to distribute their fair and still bring in planned revenue.
Moreover, WarnerMedia has placed a lot of eggs in the HBO Max streaming basket, recently undergoing a massive reorganization intended to center much of the company’s resources around its new streaming service.
Movies will be available for one month free of charge to HBO Max subscribers before returning to their exclusive theatrical run with all customary distribution windows then applying. All films will be available in 4K Ultra HD and HDR on HBO Max.
Warner Bros. Pictures Group’s 2021 expected release slate currently includes The Little Things, Judas and the Black Messiah, Tom & Jerry, Godzilla vs. Kong, Mortal Kombat, Those Who Wish Me Dead, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, In The Heights, Space Jam: A New Legacy, The Suicide Squad, Reminiscence, Malignant, Dune, The Many Saints of Newark, King Richard, Cry Macho and Matrix 4.
“We’re living in unprecedented times which call for creative solutions, including this new initiative for the Warner Bros. Pictures Group,” said Ann Sarnoff, chair and CEO, WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group (of which Warner Bros. is part), 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. 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.”
“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 Jason Kilar, CEO of WarnerMedia, also in a statement. “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.”