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HBO Max Day-and-date Releases to End in 2022 with WarnerMedia’s Regal Deal

'Godzilla vs Kong' debuts on HBO Max March 31.
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

So how about all that breathless bloviating in media trades like this one about the pandemic permanently shuttering the theatrical release window. 

Well, the windows are back, baby! At least half of them are. 

Cineworld Group, parent to the second largest theater chain in the U.S., Regal Cinemas, has announced a new multi-year agreement with WarnerMedia that will call for a 45-day exclusive theatrical window for movies starting in 2022. 

That window is about half the traditional 90-day period in which studios waited to distribute movies on digital home video platforms like HBO Max. But its, of course, 45 days longer than what WarnerMedia is currently executing in regard to its 2021 slate. 

"We are very happy for the agreement with Warner Bros." said Mooky Greidinger, chief executive of Cineworld, in a statement. "This agreement shows the studio's commitment to the theatrical business, and we see this agreement as an important milestone in our 100-year relationship with Warner Bros.”

Cineworld is getting set to re-open its 7,211 screens and 549 Regal theaters in the U.S., with about 500 of those locations starting back up in capacities ranging at 25%-50% next month. That April 2 restart will coincide--somewhat-- with Warner’s release of Godzilla vs. Kong March 31 on HBO Max. A limited Regal release of that film is planned, with a wider debut scheduled for WarnerMedia’s Mortal Kombat on April 16. 

Cineworld is also planning a May 17 restart for its second biggest market, the UK. 

WarnerMedia and its chief, Jason Kilar, took plenty of heat from Hollywood’s creative community starting in December, when the media company debuted Wonder Woman 1984 simultaneously in theaters and its new HBO Max subscription streaming service. 

That criticism soon cascaded when WarnerMedia announced it was plying the day-and-date strategy to its entire 2021 release slate. 

From the beginning, however, Kilar, along with executives at parent company AT&T, stressed that the move was a more temporary reaction to a lengthy shuttering of theatrical distribution, and not an attempt to mothball the company’s theatrical exhibition partners into obsolescence. 

Their strategy has been largely validated as maximizing profits amid a challenging distribution environment. 

As a Hub Entertainment Research survey released Tuesday shows, HBO Max is currently the fastest growing subscription streaming service in America, a dynamic undoubtedly fueled by having first-run movies debut on the platform. 

Debuting movies like Wonder Woman 1984 and The Little Things on SVOD first doesn’t seem to have harmed other release windows. For example, Comcast announced Monday that these two films were its best-selling titles last week on its rental and sale platforms, Vudu and FandangoNow.