By: Conner Mattia
With the continued surge of COVID-19 cases around the world, movie theater chains are still struggling to keep their businesses afloat. Some of these chains have reopened their theaters only for them to be shut down again. Big budget movies such as Tenet have been released in theaters during this pandemic, only to see diminishing returns at the box office.
Earlier in December, Warner Bros. announced that their entire 2021 film slate will release on HBO Max and in theaters at the same time. Each film will only be available on HBO Max for the first month of each film’s release. Once that month ends, those films will play only in theaters until it is time for their traditional home releases.
This plan will begin with the release of Wonder Woman 1984 on December 25. Following this is the release of a total of 17 films in Warner Bros.’ 2021 slate. These iinclude Dune, The Suicide Squad, Godzilla vs. Kong, The Matrix 4, and many more. Many of these films do have release dates, but they are subject to change.
Ann Sarnoff, chair and CEO of WarnerMedia, stated: “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.”
The response to this announcement is very controversial. Tenet director Christopher Nolan criticized Warner Bros.’ plan, stating: “Some of our industry’s biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service.”
Several directors who have films set to release in this 2021 slate were not pleased by this decision. The Suicide Squad director James Gunn, Dune director Denis Villeneuve, and In the Heights director Jon M. Chu were all reportedly surprised and unhappy with this plan.
Legendary Entertainment, the company co-producing Dune and Godzilla vs. Kong, either will or has already pursued legal action against Warner Bros. The production company reportedly had no notice in advance that these films were going to be a part of their plan. Prior to this HBO Max deal, Legendary was going to have Netflix take Godzilla vs. Kong from Warner Bros. for about $250 million, until Warner Bros. stopped it. Legendary also funded 75% of the $165 million budget for Dune.
Only time will tell how successful of a business model this HBO Max deal is. If this deal leads to a major profit, maybe other film studios will start to do the same with other streaming services.