Warner Bros Production to Release All 2021 Films on HBO Max and in Theaters Simultaneously
LOS ANGELES—Warner Bros., the Hollywood studio founded as a Pennsylvania nickelodeon in 1903 and responsible for classics like “Casablanca,” signaled Thursday that the entertainment industry’s future isn’t in the theater, but in the living room.
The AT&T -owned studio said it would release its entire 2021 slate of theatrical films simultaneously in theaters and on its HBO Max streaming service, the most drastic step yet taken by a major studio as the coronavirus pandemic continued to move Hollywood’s focus away from movie theaters and toward in-house streaming services.
The strategy covers all 17 movies scheduled for release by the studio next year, including big-budget films such as the science-fiction adaptation “Dune” and a new installment in the “Matrix” franchise. HBO Max will host the movies for only their first month of theatrical release before the films follow their usual distribution pattern.
The decision follows recent similar moves by other studios and cements a new reality in Hollywood: Subscriptions are more important than box office. What began as an effort to counterbalance the dominance of Netflix Inc., has rewritten the strategies at every major studio with a home-streaming service of its own. The reorientation was accelerated by a pandemic that has closed most movie theaters and all but eliminated whatever leverage their owners once had.
The head of AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., the world’s largest movie theater chain, said Thursday afternoon that the chain was reaching out to begin an urgent dialogue with WarnerMedia about the studio’s surprising decision. AMC Chief Executive Adam Aron said he signed on to accept simultaneous streaming and theater release for “one film only, ‘Wonder Woman 1984,’ ” at Christmas. He said WarnerMedia must be willing to give up “a considerable portion of the profitability” of its studio division to “subsidize” HBO Max, adding, “We will do all in our power to ensure that Warner does not do so at our expense.”