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Warner Bros to release all movies in 2021 on HBO Max at same time as theaters

Graig Graziosi
·4-min read
An HBO Max display at Warner Bros studios in Burbank, California, in October 2019. (Presley Ann/Getty Images for WarnerMedia)
An HBO Max display at Warner Bros studios in Burbank, California, in October 2019. (Presley Ann/Getty Images for WarnerMedia)

Warner Bros has announced plans to offer limited streaming of each of its 2021 films on HBO Max concurrent with the movies’ theatrical debuts.

The films will begin streaming on the same day as they are released in US cinemas and will remain on subscription service HBO Max for one month before being removed for a period of time.

WarnerMedia plans to run the new model as an experiment for one year.

Films that will be subject to Warner Bros’s new model include Dune, The Matrix 4, Space Jam: A New Legacy, Suicide Squad, 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, Reminiscence, Malignant, The Many Saints of Newark, King Richard, and Cry Macho.

All of the movies will be released in 4k Ultra HD and HDR.

Warner Bros CEO Ann Sarnoff issued a statement explaining the move.

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

The first film to follow WarnerMedia's experimental model is not actually coming out in 2021; Wonder Woman 1984, which releases on Christmas Day, will run for one month on the streaming service following its release, and will then be removed. Movie-goers can still view the film in theatres if they choose.

Ms Sarnoff said the plan was a "win-win" for movie lovers and for the movie industry.

“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,” Ms Sarnoff said. “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 is unclear if WarnerMedia has cut any deals with major theatre chains regarding its experiment. Sources speaking anonymously with The Hollywood Reporter said WarnerMedia kept its plans quiet and only shared its intents with a few exhibitors.

The coronavirus has forced major media production companies, like WarnerMedia and Disney, to reconsider how it delivers its products to audiences. It has also put an enormous strain on movie theatres, which rely on filled seats and concession sales to survive.

In April, AMC said it would no longer play Universal movies in its theatres after the media company said it planned to release its latest releases directly to streaming platforms. The feud resulted in an agreement between the companies in which AMC would have a shorter window of theatrical exclusivity prior to Universal making its films available for home rental. In exchange, AMC gets a cut of Universal's digital profits.

Disney is also reportedly considering launching three of its upcoming films direct to its streaming service, Disney+. The films - Cruella, Peter Pan and Wendy and Pinocchio are all live action remakes of classic Disney films.

Disney also plans to release its latest Pixar film, Soul directly to its streaming platform in December.

Movie theatre chains - particularly independent theatres and smaller chains - are worried that major studios are going to begin bypassing them altogether and keep their seat-filling blockbusters on their individual proprietary streaming sites.

Sources speaking with Reuters in October said that activist investor Daniel Loeb - founder of the hedge fund Third Point, which controls $14.9bn in assets including stakes in Disney and Amazon - has been pushing for Disney to send more films direct to its streaming service.

Some analysts believe that while streaming is a safer long-term bet, it cannot produce the same explosive revenue that a single major blockbuster can during a theatrical release.

"While we remain confident that streaming economics in totality are far superior long-term than traditional movie/TV economics ... nothing can achieve the per-picture economics that Disney is able to generate through a global theatrical release,” Rich Greenfield, an analyst at LightShed Partners, wrote last October following a restructuring at the company.

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