With a high percentage of the world’s movie theaters shuttered and billions of people quarantined at home, Hollywood is starting to have conversations that previously seemed unthinkable. One of those conversations is about whether to release finished movies onto streaming services and/ or make them available to order via OnDemand. Enter Wonder Woman 1984.
Until today, the talk has mostly been centered around movies that were already released into theaters breaking the traditional window and releasing early onto Blu-ray and streaming. Movies like Invisible Man and Onward have already committed. There has also been some talk about certain movies cancelling their planned theatrical releases, which we’ve seen from Trolls World Tour. Now, however, the conversation has gotten a lot more serious thanks to an article in The Wrap that claims Warner Bros is having some conversations about whether to release Wonder Woman 1984 via OnDemand rather than waiting around for a June 4th release date that’s looking increasingly unlikely. The article claims all involved would prefer to wait it out and release in theaters, but the possibility of going via OnDemand has been discussed.
I get it. These are unprecedented times and it only makes sense for studios to consider all of their options. You can’t fault executives for having conversations, but I believe releasing Wonder Woman 1984 that way would be a terrible idea. Here’s why…
The Money Part
Warner Bros reportedly has a little less than $200M invested in Wonder Woman 2 right now. If they choose to release the film via OnDemand, they are going to need to put more money into marketing that change and letting people know when it would be available for purchase. Let’s be conservative and say that puts the company’s investment into film at about $225M. So, the question becomes how do you first, make back your $225M and second, make a bunch of money in profit. Given theaters keep a percentage of grosses and you would cut out some other fees by going straight to OnDemand, I suspect $1B in theatrical grosses would probably represent the same profit level as between $500M and $600M in On Demand grosses. Let’s shoot for $500M.
So, how are we going to get to $500M in grosses? Well, the first question is how much money would a family be willing to pay to watch Wonder Woman 1984 at home? I’m going to say $25. Maybe some people would pay more, but if you start going over $25, I think you’re gonna start losing a lot of people. So, if you stick at $25 a rental, that means you need 20,000,000 separate orders. I guess that’s technically possible, but that’s a huge hill to climb, especially as we’re entering uncertain economic times. So, you’re almost certainly leaving money on the table. And even if, by some chance 20M people are willing to pay $25, that is not going to be something that happens with regularity. Every subsequent movie released this way is going to be less exciting and people will be less willing to pay. Part of what they pay for at the theater is the experience of a night out.
The Supporting Theaters Part
I know this is business and companies are only supposed to look out for themselves, but the movie business is the movie business because of movie theaters. The reason why movie stars are more famous than TV actors is because we all watch them on the big screen. The reason why Marvel movies can have such gigantic budgets is because people show up and pay out of their pockets for them. The biggest and the best movies are events. Watching content at home is not the same (sorry Netflix), and if the movie business wants to remain the movie business, it needs theaters to thrive.
Whenever we all get back to real life, the movie theater business which has been hit among the hardest of any is going to need titles like Wonder Woman 1984 to get back on its feet. People are going to need to go to the theater for the first time in months and remember how special and amazing it can be. If we pull all of our best movies over the next few months, we are not going to give people a reason to go back. I love Netflix. I love streaming content and watching at home, but I also love going to the theater and seeing the right movie. I don’t want everything to just be content, and deep down, I suspect most other people don’t either.
The Shared Experience Part
I have a really vivid memory of seeing Wonder Woman on the Big Screen. In particular, I have a very vivid memory of seeing the No Man’s Land scene for the first time. I didn’t speak or look at anyone as she walked across the battlefield. I was completely and utterly engrossed. Then I turned to look at the people around me. Some were crying. Some looked like they’d just been through hell, and I thought, “Awesome. Everyone else loved what they just saw too.” It felt like I saw a moment, and I was so glad that I got to silently share it with so many other people. Being there, surrounded by everyone else, made me appreciate it so much more, and it also made me like the movie more than I probably would have had I seen it by myself.
From Uncut Gems to Wedding Crashers to Avengers: Endgame, my memories of so many movies are accompanied by where I saw them, who I saw them with and what the vibe of the room was like. I might not need that for every single movie, but I want that for Wonder Woman 1984, and I think it’s the best thing for the future of the franchise. I think there’s nothing that will make people more excited about the eventual Wonder Woman 3 than having a great time watching it with their friends and family.
The Part Where This Is An Opportunity
I get it. I want to watch Wonder Woman 1984 right now too, and I also understand how terrible this must be for Warner Bros. They have what should be a huge hit on their hands and if we want to express that more cynically, a cash cow. I completely understand talking it out and figuring out the best course of action. But I firmly believe the best thing from a money standpoint, the best thing for movie theaters and the best thing for the future of the franchise is to wait this out and be the first big movie that welcomes everyone back to the theater. When this frustrating hell is all over, people are going to want to get back to the things they love. I can think of few things (other than maybe sports) that could provide a better shared experience and a better moment than millions of people heading back to the theater and seeing Wonder Woman 1984 together.
This could be and should be the first movie to offer that communal opportunity, and if that means delaying profits for a month or two because of Coronavirus, I think that's the right call.