On Dec. 3, it was announced that all 17 Warner Bros. films slated for 2021 would be released on the streaming service HBO Max the same day as theatres. The service launched back in May of last year and has a price of 14.99 per month.
These films will be released on the platform for no additional charge. The films will be on the service for a month and then be removed. They will then presumably follow the normal release cycle of releasing physically and digitally.
The following films are currently listed to debut on the service: “Cry Macho,” “Dune,” “Godzilla vs. Kong,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “King Richard,” “Malignant,” “Matrix 4,” “Mortal Kombat,” “Reminiscence,” “Space Jam: A New legacy,” “In The Heights,” “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” “The Little Things,” “The Many Saints of Newark,” “The Suicide Squad,” “Those Who Wish Me Dead” and “Tom & Jerry.”
This release cycle is currently a one-year plan due to the present circumstances of the pandemic. The CEO and Chairman of Warner Bros. Entertainment, Ann Sarnoff, explained their position during a “Fortune” panel. She describes the situation as a “pandemic strategy” as Warner Bros, has “17 movies ready to go and we want to be able to release them.”
Previously, she told CNBC’s Julia Boorstin on “Squawk Alley” that “we thought this was the most creative and win-win situation to bring them not only to theatres but simultaneously for 31 days on HBO Max.”
Anne Sarnoff has also said that “we know that new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theatres in the U.S will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021.” She also claimed that “no one wants films back on the big screen more than we do.”
Despite this, many people are skeptical and consider this announcement a major blow to the theatre industry. The CEO of AMC, Adam Aron, said that WarnerMedia “intends to sacrifice a considerable portion of the profitability” in order to subsidize HBO Max. He continued, saying that “as for AMC, we will do all in our power to ensure that Warner does not do so at our expense.”
Christopher Nolan also took issue with this decision by Warner Bros. The acclaimed director, known for the “Dark Knight” trilogy, “Inception” and most recently “Tenet” has had a relationship with the company since 2002. He told the Hollywood Reporter that “some of our industry’s biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service.”
He added that “Warner Bros. had an incredible machine for getting a filmmaker’s work out everywhere, both in theaters, and in the home, and they are dismantling it as we speak.”
The first film to release simultaneously on HBO Max was “Wonder Woman 1984” on Dec. 25. According to a Screen Engine Survey mentioned by the Hollwood Reporter, 23 percent of those viewing “Wonder Woman 1984” signed up in order to watch the film. Among those, 14 percent said they would continue to subscribe whilst, 9 percent said they were likely to cancel soon. According to Screen Engine, the film has already been watched more in its first week than any other streaming video-on-demand title.
It will be up to the rest of this year to see whether or not Warner Bros. strategy will pay off and whether other companies will follow suit.