Following last month’s news that “Wonder Woman 1984” will be released simultaneously on HBO Max and in U.S. theaters, Warner Bros. and its parent company WarnerMedia just announced that they will follow the same strategy with every theatrical release they have planned for 2021.
That includes movies like “Godzilla vs. Kong,” “Mortal Kombat,” “In the Heights,” “Space Jam: A New Legacy” “The Suicide Squad,” “Dune,” the “Sopranos” prequel “The Many Saints of Newark” and “The Matrix 4.” (The WarnerMedia announcement notes that release dates could change, which might move some of these titles out of the scope of today’s announcement.)
These movies will be available on HBO Max for one month, in 4K Ultra HD and HDR, at no additional charge.
Earlier this year, Hollywood studios responded to widespread theatrical closures by bringing some films straight to streaming while delaying most of their big-budget releases. The disappointing box office performance of “Tenet” (also from Warner Bros.) prompted additional delays — but as the pandemic stretched on, there was a growing sense that studios couldn’t afford to delay things forever.
For example, Universal had already reached a deal with AMC and other major chains to release movies on premium video on demand just three weeks after they launch in theaters, with the revenue split with theatrical partners.
But WarnerMedia’s announcement seems like an even more dramatic shift — and while it only covers 2021, it could signal potentially long-lasting changes to theaters’ exclusive release window.
This also comes after former Hulu CEO Jason Kilar took over as WarnerMedia’s chief executive in April, a move (followed by multiple rounds of layoffs) that seemed to put streaming front-and-center in the company’s plans.
In a statement, Kilar said:
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. 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.