The film industry just got shook. Today, WarnerMedia announced that Warner Bros., its film production arm, will release all of its 2021 films on HBO Max on the same date as theatrical releases. With any WB movie that lands in theaters also landing on HBO Max at the same time, it marks an aggressive push by the streamer to pull in subscribers and could be a dramatic sea change in the film industry if the experiment turns out to be truly profitable.
At the moment, the studio sees this simply as a stopgap as the film industry recovers from the pandemic, and it will only be in place for one year. Just like a theatrical run, the HBO Max release will be limited. Movies will premiere on the service but only be available for one month before disappearing for some time and then reappearing later on. It’s basically a theatrical release but on a streaming platform. Every film will release in 4K Ultra HD and HDR.
“We’re living in unprecedented times which call for creative solutions, including this new initiative for the Warner Bros. Pictures Group,” said WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group chair and CEO Ann Sarnoff. “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.”
Films that will land on HBO Max now include Dune, The Matrix 4, The Suicide Squad, In the Heights, Space Jam: A New Legacy, Judas and the Black Messiah, The Many Saints of Newark, King Richard, Cry Macho, Godzilla vs. Kong, and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.
The move comes after Warner Bros. suffered a major domestic blow with the theatrical-only release of Tenet and decided to do a simultaneous release with its upcoming film, Wonder Woman 1984. That decision was met with unanimous praise both from theaters and actual human beings who didn’t want to risk their lives to see the film. HBO Max has been struggling a bit in terms of subscribers as a confusing multiplatform launch and no major streaming shows have led to sluggish growth, but this move would definitely spike subscribers.
The move may also be foreshadowing a glut of studios turning to simultaneous releases on their own respective streaming platforms. Disney has already moved some films like Mulan and Soul to digital-only, and now that the gates have opened, we’ll probably start seeing them move more. We will have to see how theaters react to the news, but it sounds like a blow to them. And if it turns out that the studios can make enough money without them, this might become the new normal.