The moment the news landed that Warner Bros. would be releasing all of its 2021 movies on HBO Max at the same time they hit theaters, it was clear this would be a massive blow to cinemas, especially if it began a domino effect of other studios making the same decision. Obviously, exhibitors were not thrilled and their reactions have now come in, and while professional, they are clearly all in agreement that the move is not wanted and, in their opinion, not needed. The three big chains — AMC, Regal, and Cinemark — all released similar statements.
Cinemark’s response via a rep is probably the most tepid:
In light of the current operating environment, we are making near-term booking decisions on a film-by-film basis. At this time, Warner Bros. has not provided any details for the hybrid distribution model of their 2021 films.
The company has not yet confirmed if it will even screen Wonder Woman 1984 after Warner Bros. moved its release to simultaneous.
AMC CEO Adam Aron had a bit more bite in their response, saying:
These coronavirus-impacted times are uncharted waters for all of us, which is why AMC signed on to an HBO Max exception to customary practices for one film only, Wonder Woman 1984, being released by Warner Brothers at Christmas when the pandemic appears that it will be at its height. However, Warner now hopes to do this for all their 2021 theatrical movies, despite the likelihood that with vaccines right around the corner the theatre business is expected to recover.
Clearly, Warner Media intends to sacrifice a considerable portion of the profitability of its movie studio division, and that of its production partners and filmmakers, to subsidize its HBO Max start up. As for AMC, we will do all in our power to ensure that Warner does not do so at our expense. We will aggressively pursue economic terms that preserve our business.
We have already commenced an immediate and urgent dialogue with the leadership of Warner on this subject.
As this issue gets sorted out, we are nonetheless encouraged that vaccines protecting society at large against the coronavirus are very much at hand. So, it is our expectation that moviegoers soon will be able once again to delight in coming to our theatres without any worry — viewing the world’s best movies safely in our big seats, with our big sound and on our big screens.
AMC had heralded WB’s choice to release Wonder Woman 1984 in theaters and on HBO Max when they made the decision, clearly preferring it to the alternative of an all-digital release. However, the idea of doing that for an entire year is obviously not to AMC’s liking at all. Clearly, figuring out just how WB and theater chains will collaborate on this is going to be tough.
Finally, Regal Cinemas owner CineWorld release a “muted” statement, saying that they will be working with WB on this though negotiations haven’t started:
Cineworld was aware of WB’s plan to release Wonder Woman directly to its streaming service, which has been announced at a time when our cinemas remain closed in the US (Regal) and UK (Cineworld). We are very encouraged by the giant steps achieved recently with regards to the COVID-19 vaccination process, which is expected to be put in place earlier than previously anticipated. This will generate significant relief for our industry and enable our cinemas to make a great comeback. We believe that at such a time WB will look to reach an agreement about the proper window and terms that will work for both sides. Big movies are made for the big screen and we cannot wait to reopen our cinemas in Q1 in order to offer our customers, as always, the best place to watch a movie.
The company has temporarily shuttered Regal Cinemas in the U.S., so it had no previous stake in the co-release of Wonder Woman 1984.
Clearly, the studios believe that the release of vaccines in the future is going to show a dramatic rebound in the box office, but that isn’t a view shared by Warner Bros. or the rest of the industry as a whole. The truth is a return to the pre-pandemic status quo probably isn’t going to happen, and the lack of adaptability by theater chains will only exacerbate their woes. While the pandemic sped up the process, the move to studios releasing content outside of theaters was obviously coming, and theater chains did nothing to adapt. There is, of course, a place for movie theaters in the industry. There is something special about seeing a big movie on a big screen with a room full of people, but streaming is the future and the industry should be rebuilt around it in a way that is sustainable for those who want to watch movies on the big screen and those who want to watch them at home.