WarnerMedia, which was perhaps the most reluctant to accept the notion of permanent pandemic-accelerated changes to theatrical windowing, now seems to be the biggest convert.
The media company on Thursday announced that all 17 of Warner Bros. Pictures Group’s 2021 theatrical releases will debut day-and-date on this HBO Max subscription streaming service with their theatrical premiere. This includes anticipated release of The Matrix 4, a Suicide Squad sequel and a remake of Dune.
The slate also currently includes The Little Things, starring Denzel Washington; Judas and the Black Messiah, a period biopic about Black Panther leader Fred Hampton; Tom & Jerry, a live-action adaptation of the famous cat-and-mouse cartoon; an update to the 1996 live-action/animation hybrid comedy Space Jam; Lin-Manuel Miranda musical In the Heights; science fiction drama Reminiscence starring Hugh Jackman; horror movie Malignant; David Chase-penned crime drama The Many Saints of Newark; a biopic focused on Venus and Serena Williams’ father called King Richard; Clint Eastwood’s latest movie, Cry Macho; the self-explanatory Godzilla vs. Kong; a remake of Mortal Kombat; the “neo-Western” Those Who Wish Me Dead, and a sequel to The Conjuring.
All films will be available in 4K Ultra HD and HDR on HBO Max.
WarnerMedia was slow to pivot to the day-and-date model with video streaming, choosing in the late summer to take its chances in the massively disrupted global exhibition market with Tenet, filmmaker Christopher Nolan's latest summer action tentpole.
To date, Tenet has garnered only around $357.8 million in global box office receipts, most of them from foreign release. This was well short of WarnerMedia's initial projections for the film, which costs more than $200 million to make, and probably an equal amount to print and market globally.
WarnerMedia, however, notably reversed course for Wonder Woman 2, another projected summer-of-2020 blockbuster, choosing to make it the first movie to be released simultaneously in theaters and on the $14.99-a-month HBO Max streaming service.
“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, in as 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.”
Added Ann Sarnoff, chair and CEO of WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group: “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.”
The move makes WarnerMedia the most aggressive media company so far in terms of disrupting the traditional theatrical window, which had been challenged well before the pandemic shut down theater chains around the world.
In early September, the Walt Disney Company simultaneously debuted its live-action adaptation of Mulan on its Disney Plus platform, but charged subscribers already paying $6.99 a month an additional $30.
NBCUniversal, meanwhile, announced a partnership agreement with the nation's biggest theatrical chain, AMC, whereby it would share revenue from debuting movies simultaneously in the transactional market.
“This hybrid exhibition model enables us to best support our films, creative partners and moviegoing in general throughout 2021,” said Toby Emmerich, chairman of the Warner Bros. Pictures Group. “We have a fantastic, wide ranging slate of titles from talented and visionary filmmakers next year, and we’re excited to be able get these movies in front of audiences around the world. And, as always, we’ll support all of our releases with innovative and robust marketing campaigns for their theatrical debuts, while highlighting this unique opportunity to see our films domestically via HBO Max as well.”
WarnerMedia parent company AT&T said during its third quarter earnings call in October that only around 8.6 million of the nearly 38 million U.S. HBO subscribers had made the no-cost upgrade to the HBO Max service.
Debuting in late May, the subscription streaming service's uptake has been slowed by distribution disputes with Roku and Amazon, as well as a curtailed pipeline of original shows caused by pandemic-related studio shutdowns.
Having 17 theatrical quality movies debut on the service at no extra cost will undoubtedly drive up signups. It will also put pressure to make deal on Roku, which operates the most widely distributed OTT platform in America.
Certainly, committing all its movies at once to the home video market shows determination on behalf of AT&T to make HBO Max work, following a string of previous video strategy failures that included, among other things, the erstwhile DirecTV Now.
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