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To say this year has been rough for the film industry would be an understatement, and while a lot of movies have simply been delayed due to the current health crisis, others were shifted to VOD or streaming releases. Wonder Woman 1984 changed the game a few weeks back when it was announced that the sequel will be released in theaters and on HBO Max the same day. Now it’s been announced that Warner Bros will implement this release plan with all its 2021 movies.
Warner Bros has 17 movies on the way next year, including Space Jam: A New Legacy, The Matrix 4, Godzilla vs. Kong and The Suicide Squad. Rather than make individual release decisions for all these movies at different times, the studio has instead opted to have them all arrive on HBO Max the same day as they hit theaters, with each movie playing on the streaming service during a one-month window. Once that window expires, the movies will leave HBO Max and will continue to play in theaters until the home release period kicks off.
So as an example, The Suicide Squad is currently slated for August 5, 2021. Right now, the plan is for it to still open in theaters on that day, but you’ll also have the option of watching it on HBO Max once August 5 rolls around. However, if you don’t watch The Suicide Squad on HBO Max within that first month of availability, you’ll either need to head to your nearest open theater to watch it or wait for it to arrive on Blu-ray, 4K DVD and Digital HD. It’s also worth noting that like with Wonder Woman 1984, all these movies will be available on HBO Max in 4K Ultra HD and HDR.
Along with its official announcement, Warner Bros also shared the following video advertising its game-changing HBO Max release plan.
Ann Sarnoff, the Chair and CEO of WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, described this as a “unique one-year plan,” so for now, the studio only intends to use this HBO Max day-and-date approach for its 2021 offerings. That said, this will unquestionably make a huge splash in the movies realm, and it’s a hard pivot from how Warner Bros handled Tenet’s release earlier this year. If these 2021 movies perform extremely well on HBO Max, it’s entirely possible Warner Bros will want to keep this going into 2022 and beyond.
You can also be sure that Warner Bros’ competitors will be watching close to see how this all shakes out, especially Disney. The Mouse House has its own streaming service doing quite well, and along with movies like Artemis Fowl and Hamilton being shifted directly to Disney+, the company tested the waters a few months back by providing Mulan to Disney+ subscribers for an additional $30. It’s been rumored that movies like Cruella, Pinocchio and Peter Pan and Wendy could also move to Disney+, and while Black Widow will reportedly still get a traditional theatrical release, it wouldn’t be surprising if Disney decides to shift course on that and other tentpole blockbusters in the wake of Warner Bros’ massive decision.
On a different end of the spectrum, Universal has recently made its own splash by striking special deals with theater chains AMC and Cinemark. After playing exclusively in those theatrical locations for 17 days, Universal can provide its movies as PVOD rentals, with AMC and Cinemark getting cuts of that revenue. The theatrical landscape looks quite different than it did at the beginning of 2020, and who’s to say there won’t be another shakeup before this year comes to a close?