Warner Bros. to Debut 2021 Blockbusters In Theaters and on HBO Max Simultaneously


Julian Chua

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything. The threat of a virus lurking around has locked us in our homes, and has kept us for longer than some could have anticipated. In this time, the world has adapted to a new way of living. Everything we do, from working to learning to simply socializing, has been happening online in one way or another. And with this, the entertainment industry has been changed forever. With the closing of movie theaters, as well as every other public place in the world, many of the most anticipated film releases of this year have been postponed. However, in these trying times, audiences have turned to other methods of watching movies from the comfort of their own homes, whether it be VOD, streaming services, or even VOD on streaming services. Exceptionally, Warner Brothers, the mega film corporation, has made a daring move regarding their upcoming film releases, which could change the entertainment industry forever.

WB has recently announced that their upcoming 2021 blockbusters will be released on their streaming service, HBO Max, alongside a theatrical release. Such blockbusters include the anticipated DC superhero flick The Suicide Squad, the fourth installment of hit franchise The Matrix, an adaptation of the popular novel Dune, the live action-animated hybrid movie Space Jam: A New Legacy, and more. These films will only be available on the service for a month before leaving and continuing their regular theatrical run. Along with this, WB has also closed 30-day free trials for HBO Max, presumably in order to increase the amount of paying subscribers for the service.

Yes, that’s right. Every Warner Brothers movie is going to be available right in the comfort of your own home, on the same day they drop in theaters.

Many people in Hollywood have found this move to be both shocking and worrying. Denis Villeneuve, director of Dune, claims to have been caught completely off guard when he heard in the news that his film would be moved to the new hybrid release plan. As he wrote in an article for the Variety news outlet, he thinks WB’s new strategy has “absolutely no love for cinema, nor for the audience here,” and that a movie as big as Dune is not fit for a release like this. Acclaimed filmmaker and director of the recently released Tenet Christopher Nolan was also displeased with the new plan. “Warner Bros. had an incredible machine for getting a filmmaker’s work out everywhere, both in theaters and in the home, and they are dismantling it as we speak,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “They don’t even understand what they’re losing. Their decision makes no economic sense, and even the most casual Wall Street investor can see the difference between disruption and dysfunction.”

WarnerMedia CEO Ann Sarnoff highlighted the benefits of this plan. “No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do,” she said. “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.”

However, some theater chains see this decision as a threat. Adam Aron, Chief Executive of the theater chain AMC Entertainment, was not happy with the news. In an email to The New York Times, he wrote, “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. “As for AMC, we will do all in our power to ensure that Warner does not do so at our expense. We have already commenced an immediate and urgent dialogue with the leadership of Warner on this subject.”

Will Warner Brothers’ new strategy be a fatal blow to movie theaters? Will other studios like Disney pick up on it? All of this remains to be seen as the rest of 2021 unfolds.