On the heels of Warner Bros.’ announcement this past November to debut “Wonder Woman 1984” simultaneously on HBO Max and in theaters on Christmas Day, WarnerMedia has now stated that this release strategy will apply to their entire 2021 film slate as well.
The studio’s decision sent shockwaves throughout the film industry on Thursday Dec. 4 and greatly disappointed theatrical exhibitors such as AMC and Regal, many of whom believe that conventional moviegoing could return to normal by late spring to summer of 2021. However, it remains to be seen how long this adjustment will take, and WarnerMedia wished to adapt to alternative means of distribution.
“We’re living in unprecedented times which call for creative solutions, including this new initiative for the Warner Bros. Picture Group,” WarnerMedia chair and CEO Ann Sarnoff said in a statement. “No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do. We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theaters in the U.S. will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021.”
Executives at WarnerMedia also maintain that this is a “unique one-year plan” that is not expected to extend into 2022 or beyond, but others in the film industry are more skeptical now that this announcement has been made and standards have been shattered.
“We see [this] as a win-win for film lovers and exhibitors, and we’re extremely grateful to our filmmaking partners for working with us on this innovative response to these circumstances,” Sarnoff continued. “We can support our partners in exhibition with a steady pipeline of world-class films, while also giving moviegoers who may not have access to theaters or aren’t quite ready to go back to the movies the chance to see our amazing 2021 films.”
More than 60% of U.S. theaters have closed down again, and that number could only continue to rise if COVID-19 cases increase over the holiday season. Even when the public is properly vaccinated, it remains to be seen what the theatrical landscape will even look like.
“After considering all available options and the projected state of moviegoing throughout 2021, we came to the conclusion that this was the best way for WarnerMedia’s motion picture business to navigate the next 12 months,” said WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar. “More importantly, we are planning to bring consumers 17 remarkable movies throughout the year, giving them the choice and the power to decide how they want to enjoy these films. Our content is extremely valuable, unless it’s sitting on a shelf not being seen by anyone. We believe this approach serves our fans, supports exhibitors and filmmakers, and enhances the HBO Max experience, creating value for all.”
Warner Bros.’ 2021 film slate includes top-tier titles such as “Dune,” “The Matrix 4,” “The Suicide Squad,” “Mortal Kombat,” “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” and “Tom & Jerry.” Each title will be available on HBO Max for 31 days, and after that one-month mark, they will solely play in theaters until eventually being released for home entertainment consumption (and made available on online platforms like iTunes and Amazon).