Warner Bros. to Release 2021 Movies on HBO Max

The studio's departure from the traditional distribution model could "fundamentally change the way people watch movies years after coronavirus fades.”
Matthew HellerDecember 4, 2020

Warner Bros has announced a radical departure from the traditional model for distributing movies that reflects the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic on U.S. theaters.

The studio said Thursday it would release its entire slate of 2021 films — including potential blockbusters such as “Dune,” “Godzilla vs. Kong” and a fourth “Matrix” — simultaneously in U.S. theaters and on its sister streaming service HBO Max.

After one month of streaming on HBO Max, the films will leave the platform and continue to play in theaters. Under the traditional model, studios waited at least 74 days after movies hit theaters before making them available for home viewing.

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“We’re living in unprecedented times which call for creative solutions,” WarnerMedia Studios CEO Ann Sarnoff said in a news release, citing “the reality that most theaters in the U.S. will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021.”

She called it a “unique one-year plan” in response to the health crisis while a Warner Bros. Picture Group executive told the Los Angeles Times it was “a temporary solution to COVID.”

But Variety said Warner’s move was “a game changer, one that could alter the theatrical distribution landscape permanently and fundamentally change the way people watch movies years after coronavirus fades.”

“Fans trained to expect immediate gratification will not be eager to return to the days of giving theaters an exclusive period to play movies,” The New York Times warned.

Warner had previously disclosed that on Christmas Day it would release “Wonder Woman 1984” simultaneously for streaming and in theaters. So far, 8.6 million households have signed up for HBO Max, which was launched in May 2020 and on which parent company AT&T has been pinning hopes for growth.

Shares of AMC Entertainment and other theater chains tumbled on the news.

“Clearly, WarnerMedia intends to sacrifice a considerable portion of the profitability of its movie studio division — and that of its production partners and filmmakers — to subsidize its HBO Max start-up,” AMC CEO Adam Aron said. “As for AMC, we will do all in our power to ensure that Warner does not do so at our expense.”

Presley Ann/Getty Images for WarnerMedia