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Robert De Niro in a movie theater in Cape Fear

Yesterday the entertainment world was rocked by the announcement from Warner Bros. that the studio would be releasing all of its planned 2021 theatrical slate on HBO Max on the same day the movies arrived in theaters. As the most aggressive shift to streaming yet taken by a major studio, many are wondering if this could be the first step in a fundamental shift away from theaters. It is, of course, in the best interest of those theaters that this not be the case, and now both AMC and Cinemark have responded to the announcement, and, as one might guess, they're not happy.

AMC is the largest theater chain the U.S. and the company has never been shy about making its true feelings known. AMC came out strongly against Universal's plan to release Trolls World Tour both in theaters and on VOD back when the pandemic was first rearing its head, and the chain is just as blunt about Warner Bros. new plans. AMC chief executive Adam Aron seemed mostly resigned at the time to WB's decision to release Wonder Woman 1984 on HBO Max later this month, but in an e-mail to the New York Times, he took the studio to task for the decision to do the same with every 2021 film. According to Aron...

Clearly, WarnerMedia intends to sacrifice a considerable portion of the profitability of its movie studio division — and that of its production partners and filmmakers — to subsidize its HBO Max start-up. As for AMC, we will do all in our power to ensure that Warner does not do so at our expense. We have already commenced an immediate and urgent dialogue with the leadership of Warner on this subject.

It seems that this announcement from Warner Bros. was as much a surprise to the theaters as it was for the rest of the country. One can imagine that this "urgent dialogue" that got underway between AMC and WB started with the words "What the hell?" AMC refers to HBO Max as a "start-up" which might be technically true but is not the sort of language one tends to use when talking about a division of one of the largest media companies on the planet.

Cinemark also responded to the WB announcement, though that chain's comment was a bit more conciliatory. Basically, Cinemark says that under the circumstances, it is taking its film booking slowly, so it's not even looking that deep into 2021 yet. Although, Cinemark also confirmed that WB had revealed nothing to them to this point about the company's plans...

In light of the current operating environment, we are making near-term booking decisions on a film-by-film basis. At this time, Warner Bros. has not provided any details for the hybrid distribution model of their 2021 films.

WB has stated that this hybrid distribution setup is only planned for 2021, not beyond that, and a year from now things might be back to normal, but it's also possible that the toothpaste is out of the tube and things will never be quite the same again.

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