Zack Sharf, writing at IndieWire:
Warner Bros. Pictures Group has announced its entire 2021 film slate will open via a “distribution model in which Warner Bros. will continue to exhibit the films theatrically worldwide, while adding an exclusive one month access period on the HBO Max streaming platform in the U.S. concurrent with the film’s domestic release.”
Last month it was announced that the upcoming Wonder Woman 1984 would debut on Christmas Day both in movie theaters (where open) as well as on HBO Max, and Warner seems to think this is a winning strategy: it’s expanding the move to more than a dozen films, including big blockbusters like The Suicide Squad, Dune, and Matrix 4.
Like WW84, the movies will only be available on the streaming service for one month, before being in theaters only, and then eventually moving to the usual distribution windows (like online sales and rental).
In may ways, it feels as though we’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop with regards to Hollywood movies. A lot of studios have chosen to push big releases from this year, with occasional dangles into experiments like offering movies online for an additional fee (Mulan, Bill & Ted Face the Music), but Warner clearly wants to goose subscribers to HBO Max, and this sure seems like a compelling way to do it.
The biggest question is outside the U.S., where HBO Max doesn’t really exist: its first international launches are scheduled for next year in Latin America and some parts of Europe. But due to licensing deals outside the U.S., it will almost certainly take some time before there’s parity on programming internationally—if ever. Customers in those countries will likely have to go on a more case-by-case basis and potentially wait for the normal at-home distribution.
It will also be interesting to see how other big studios react to this news. Disney seems to have remained steadfast in holding some of its biggest titles—such as Black Widow—until theaters reopen, but it is making the next Pixar movie, Soul, available exclusively to Disney+ subscribers for free later this month.
Right now, we’re kind of back in uncharted territories, as different companies try different approaches, and as someone who probably won’t be going back to a movie theater anytime soon, I’m glad to see that even big corporations are being forced to take chances.