In a massive blow to theaters, Warner Bros. has announced plans to release their 2021 slate of films digitally, via HBO Max, as well as theatrically. The news comes in the wake of major 2020 release Wonder Woman 1984 debuting later this month with a dual-theatrical/streaming premiere, as well as the rumors of upcoming Godzilla vs Kong looking to stream via HBO Max.
New releases will stream for one month via HBO Max, premiering on the service the same day as their respective theatrical release. Massive blockbuster releases, including The Matrix 4 and Denis Villeneuve’s Dune adaptation would be included in this program.
WarnerMedia Studios CEO Ann Sarnoff spoke on the “unique one-year plan” laid out to release the studio’s 17 planned 2021 films. Streaming new releases like The Suicide Squad or the new Space Jam would indicate a major shift against theatrical exhibition, but Sarnoff claims the “unprecedented times” under the global pandemic have pushed for the dramatic decision. “No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do… but we have to balance this with the reality that most theaters in the U.S. will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021.”
Accompanying the announcement, Warner Bros. has released a sizzle reel of upcoming, affected titles.
The long-term implications of the move are staggering, to say the least. Following Tenet‘s performance under pandemic conditions (despite Christopher Nolan’s acceptance of the returns), and given the uncertain state of coronavirus treatment and conditions in the US, Warner Bros. is looking to stay alive, first and foremost. “Our content is extremely valuable, unless it’s sitting on a shelf not being seen by anyone.”
It’s a difficult situation, one that this theater-die-hard hates to see come to this. Still, it’s with apparent confidence that Sarnoff mentions this being a limited plan of distribution for the legendary studio; though if profits climb, it’s difficult to predict whether there will ever be a return to “normal” releases, following the eventual end of the pandemic.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter