WarnerMedia announced on Thursday that its entire 2021 movie slate — including The Matrix 4 and The Suicide Squad — will release in theaters and on HBO Max on the same day.
WarnerMedia says that this is a drastic, temporary measure that is necessary because theaters will likely continue to operate at limited capacity into next year.
Movies will only be available on HBO Max for a month after release, at which point they will be removed and continue to run in theaters until a later date.
In what likely amounts to the most significant seismic shift the movie industry has experienced in years, WarnerMedia announced on Thursday that its 2021 slate of movies will debut simultaneously in theaters as well as on the streaming service HBO Max. The films will be available to view on the service for one month, at which point they will be removed while continuing their theatrical runs in the US and in other territories around the world.
This plan will apply to every single WarnerMedia movie slated to hit theaters next year, including The Suicide Squad, The Matrix 4, Dune, Godzilla vs. Kong, Space Jam: A New Legacy, Little Things, Judas and the Black Messiah, Tom & Jerry, Mortal Kombat, Those Who Wish Me Dead, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, In The Heights, The Many Saints of Newark, Reminiscence, Malignant, King Richard and Cry Macho.
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There’s no question that this will be received poorly by exhibition partners such as AMC, Cinemark, and Regal, all of which are banking on movies to return to theaters as quickly as possible to avoid more losses. Nevertheless, it’s clear that mass gatherings will continue to be limited in 2021, and WarnerMedia wasn’t going to go another year without a plan other than repeatedly delaying movies in hopes that the pandemic would resolve itself.
WarnerMedia opted to trade box office numbers (which were likely to be significantly stifled anyway) and potentially relationships with distributors for subscribers to its streaming service. HBO Max might not have gotten off to the same hot start as Disney+, but anyone who wants to see The Matrix 4 or Dune on release day will undoubtedly be tempted to subscribe. It’s hard to even quantify how consequential this be to the future of the movie industry — especially if this experiment is successful — even if Warner says it’s a temporary measure.
“We’re living in unprecedented times which call for creative solutions, including this new initiative for the Warner Bros. Pictures Group,” said Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff in a statement on Thursday. “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. With this unique one-year plan, 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. 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.”