Warner Bros announces HBO Max plan for all 2021 releases
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Warner Bros is doubling down on its new HBO Max platform with an unprecedented plan to release all 17 of its titles day-and-date in the US in 2021.
HBO Max, which launched in May this year, is not currently available in the UK, with its original programming so far released across a range of platforms, including BBC iPlayer (Love Life), Sky Atlantic (Raised by Wolves) and STARZPLAY (Doom Patrol). This year, with swathes of cinemas closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Warner Bros has turned to HBO Max to release high-profile titles such as The Witches, starring Anne Hathaway – and, most notably, Wonder Woman 1984, which will be released on 25th December in US cinemas and on HBO Max.
Now, it’s taking that one step further in a sign that acknowledges the theatrical landscape will not be returning to normal in the immediate future, sending 17 films to HBO Max on the same day as their cinema release, where they will be available to US subscribers for 31 days. That includes: The Suicide Squad, The Matrix 4, Dune, Godzilla vs Kong, Space Jam: A New Legacy, Little Things, Judas and the Black Messiah, Tom & Jerry, Mortal Kombat, Those Who Wish Me Dead, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, In The Heights, Reminiscence, Malignant, The Many Saints of Newark, King Richard and Cry Macho.
The move follows similar moves from Disney, which has released titles straight to Disney+ in response to the pandemic, and Universal, which sparked major backlash from cinemas earlier this year when it broke the theatrical window to release titles online. Universal has since signed a deal with AMC that will allow it to release its films 17 days after their release in AMC screens, splitting the resulting online revenue. Warner also reportedly has a deal to share ticket sales with cinemas in place for its 2021 releases.
“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 and Networks Group, in a statement. “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 US 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.”
“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,” added WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar. “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.”
While Warner Bros has stressed that the decision is just for 2021, with Universal already shortening the theatrical window, Disney backing its own streaming platform, Amazon Studios shortening the theatrical window for its original films and a growing number of independent cinemas screening Netflix’s titles, the move highlights how significantly the face of film distribution is changing in a digital age and raises the question whether it will ever revert to the way things were again.
What does all this mean for the UK? With HBO Max not available here, Warner Bros has committed to a cinema release for Wonder Woman 1984 from 16th December. For The Witches, with most cinemas closed due to the pandemic, it pivoted at the last minute to a premium VOD release. THR reports that Warner will continue to roll out its 2021 slate in UK cinemas as planned, much like Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, which was released over the summer. How sustainable that is, how the ongoing pandemic will continue to impact decisions on a film by film basis, and how pressure from consumers outside of the US will shape Warner’s international digital strategy, only time will tell. Indeed, reports broke just yesterday that Warner was in talks with Sky to release Wonder Woman 1984 on premium VOD in January.