The last two years have changed a lot in Hollywood but perhaps most importantly they’ve changed the relationships between some of the biggest players. Studios and theater owners have had their issues in the past, as have productions studios and distributors. We’ve even seen some of these issues result in threats of legal action, but now we’re seeing actual lawsuits as Village Roadshow has sued Warner Bros. over the release of The Matrix: Resurrections.
This lawsuit is very similar to the other major lawsuit we’ve seen come out of the theatrical vs. streaming battle that resulted from pandemic-related changes to distribution. Scarlett Johansson had previously filed a lawsuit against Walt Disney Pictures arguing that the studio’s decision to release Black Widow on Disney+ at the same time it arrived in theaters hurt the box office of the film, and thus impacted the compensation she was entitled to receive.
Village Roadshow’s lawsuit against WB alleges that by releasing The Matrix: Resurrections on HBO Max at the same time it released in theaters, the studio “not only ensured that The Matrix Resurrections would be a bust at the box office, but it also inflicted serious harm to the entire Matrix franchise." The argument is that WB’s decision to have the duel release was intentionally designed to damage the box office in order to support HBO Max.
For its part Warner Bros. calls the lawsuit “frivolous” according to Variety. The two parties had apparently already entered into an arbitration in order to come to terms on this issue, and WB claims Village Roadshow is now using the lawsuit to “avoid their contractual commitment” referencing the arbitration.
At the end of 2020, Warner Bros. announced that the studio’s entire 2021 film slate would see releases both in theaters and on HBO Max. The decision was met with almost immediate backlash, even from those involved in the productions. For a long time there was question whether Denis Villeneuve’s Dune would actually get the dual release. It ultimately did.
Christopher Nolan, who had previously released Tenet only in theaters, was a vocal critic of the WB decision and the bad blood between the two sides over the issue has been sighted as a main reason that Nolan’s next movie is being produced at Universal rather than WB.
It’s difficult to argue that the new Matrix film hasn’t been struggling, The movie has only grossed $153 million worldwide, which is certainly a lot less than anybody would have hoped.
Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit against Disney was eventually settled before it saw the inside of a courtroom. We’ll have to wait and see if something similar happens here. Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that there’s still a lot of work to be done when it comes to figuring out how big movies are going to be released in the new normal.
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