In the most seismic change in distribution in some time, Warner Brothers will be releasing all of their major 2021 films including Godzilla Versus Kong, In The Heights, The Suicide Squad, Dune and Matrix 4 simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max.
All of the releases will follow the same pattern that Warner Wonder 1984 will be using when the superhero sequel finally roles out on Christmas Day. Each film will debut simulatneously in theaters and on the HBO Max streaming service. The film will be available for 30 days on HBO Max. Theaters will then have an exclusive screening window between the 31st and the 60th day of the film’s release, before it becomes available on Video On Demand outlets starting on Day 61.
So I guess we now know why it was rumored last month that Warners rebuffed an offer from Netflix to outright buy the streaming distribution rights to Godzilla Versus Kong from the studio.
The complete lineup of films that Warners currently has scheduled for 2021 include – The Little Things, Judas and the Black Messiah, Tom & Jerry, Godzilla vs. Kong, Mortal Kombat, Those Who Wish Me Dead, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, In The Heights, Space Jam: A New Legacy, The Suicide Squad, Reminiscence, Malignant, Dune, The Many Saints of Newark, King Richard, Cry Macho and Matrix 4.
Warner press release making the announcement states that “The hybrid model was created as a strategic response to the impact of the ongoing global pandemic.”
But in reality, I don’t think that this is a solution that anyone is overly happy with. Theaters have been pushing back against the idea of simultaneous theatrical and streaming releases for some time, as they rightfully see it as a move that would cut into their business. Theaters have been struggling as it is, even with some new product getting released every week. And it was the exclusivity of bigger titles like Wonder Woman 1984 being on a big screen that was being looked to as possibly luring people back. This is certainly not going to endear Warners to theater owners after the way that they worked hard to be open so the studio could release Christopher Nolan’s Tenet earlier this year. Warners most likely will be striking a similar ticket sales split with theaters like it did for Wonder Woman 1984, which is reportedly more favorable to theaters than the usual split. But that might not be enough to salve theater owners feelings.
However, these are big, expensive films and the studios can’t keep carrying their cost with no income on their books for the foreseeable future, even though recent news about coronavirus vaccine research may suggest that an end to the current pandemic may be in sight. And even though this model will bring Warner brothers some much needed cash, the amount that they will generate is likely to be much less than what many of these films would have generated at the box office in a non-pandemic situation.
The big, unanswered question in all of this is what happens after the pandemic has ended and people will be able to return to theaters that can operate at full capacity. The press release stresses that this is just a one-year plan, but will Warners go back to the old distribution models? What will the theatrical landscape look like with some of the major chains inching ever closer to potential bankruptcy the longer that the pandemic continues?