Whoa: Warner Bros. is going all-in on HBO Max.
The studio is taking the unprecedented step of not just releasing Wonder Woman 1984 on HBO Max this month, but also every one of its films in 2021 — the whole slate, from Dune to The Matrix 4. Every film will be released day-and-date in theaters and on the new streaming service.
The lineup of 17 films includes The Little Things, Judas and the Black Messiah, Tom & Jerry, Godzilla vs. Kong, Mortal Kombat, Those Who Wish Me Dead, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, In The Heights, Space Jam: A New Legacy, The Suicide Squad, Reminiscence, Malignant, Dune, The Many Saints of Newark, King Richard, Cry Macho, and Matrix 4. The company released a promotional video, above, touting the news.
“We’re living in unprecedented times which call for creative solutions, including this new initiative for the Warner Bros. Pictures Group,” said Ann Sarnoff, Chair and CEO, WarnerMedia Studios. “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. With this unique one-year plan, we can support our partners in exhibition with a steady pipeline of world-class films, while also giving moviegoers who may not have access to theaters or aren’t quite ready to go back to the movies the chance to see our amazing 2021 films. We see it as a win-win for film lovers and exhibitors, and we’re extremely grateful to our filmmaking partners for working with us on this innovative response to these circumstances.”
It’s difficult to imagine theater-owners agreeing with that “win-win” sentiment, as they’ve been battered heavily by the pandemic and were looking forward to the release of vaccines — which are expected to begin distribution in the United States this month — as a light at the end of the tunnel for their financial crisis. The move hints at a future where theatrical releases being put on streaming services might become routine, not just a pandemic response.
While Warner Bros. parent WarnerMedia has some pressures of its own — HBO Max is a major initiative for the company, but the service has only signed on 8.6 million U.S. subscribers since it launched last May (compared to Disney+ gaining 60 million members since launching in late 2019). The company hopes to have 50 million subscribers by 2025.
Added Jason Kilar, CEO, WarnerMedia: “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.”
“This hybrid exhibition model enables us to best support our films, creative partners and moviegoing in general throughout 2021,” added Toby Emmerich, Chairman, 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.”