Next year, moviegoers who want to enjoy Dune, The Matrix 4, The Suicide Squad, In the Heights, and Space Jam: A New Legacy won’t have to travel very far for the privilege. In an industry-changing maneuver that would have seemed unimaginable at this time last year, WarnerMedia announced Thursday that Warner Bros. plans to distribute its entire film slate simultaneously in theaters and via the WarnerMedia streaming platform HBO Max.
The hybrid model—which WarnerMedia is set to employ later this month with the release of Wonder Woman 1984—is not a permanent strategy just yet, or so WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group chair and CEO Ann Sarnoff claimed in a statement. Rather, at least right now, the company plans to consider this a one-year stopgap to account for the coronavirus pandemic and the radically diminished capacity of theaters to operate amid the global health crisis.
“We’re living in unprecedented times which call for creative solutions, including this new initiative for the Warner Bros. Pictures Group,” Sarnoff said in a statement, adding that “no one wants films back on the big screen more than we do.”
But while she acknowledged that “new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition,” Sarnoff also alleged that the 2021 plan was done with patrons in mind, especially those who won’t feel comfortable returning to movie theaters even after the coronavirus vaccine rolls out in the first half of next year.
“We see it 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,” she said.
In his own statement, WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, who formerly held that title at Hulu, added, “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. 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.”
In addition to Dune, The Matrix 4, The Suicide Squad, In the Heights, and Space Jam: A New Legacy, the other Warner Bros. titles that will drop on HBO Max include a mix of Oscar hopefuls (Judas and the Black Messiah, The Many Saints of Newark, King Richard, and Cry Macho) and major blockbuster sequels (Godzilla vs. Kong, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It). Per a press release, all films will be presented on HBO Max in 4K Ultra HD and HDR and be available for subscribers to stream for one month after release. Following that time period, the films will remain available in theaters where applicable “with all customary distribution windows applying to the title.”
WarnerMedia has been aggressive in its attempts to release its film projects this year. After a months-long shutdown of the theatrical industry, the studio was first out of the gate with Christopher Nolan’s Tenet in September. That film failed to scale above middling domestic box office returns, however, and its overall performance pushed Warner Bros. to reconsider its 2020 releases—and now, its 2021 calendar as well.
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