Last month, Warner Bros. threw in the towel and announced that after numerous delays, it was going to release Wonder Woman 1984 to theaters and its streaming platform HBO Max simultaneously. Now, it’s revealed that all of its films for 2021 will get the same treatment, including Dune and Matrix 4.
The move comes amidst considerable uncertainty in the theatrical industry as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. As the pandemic surged this spring and fall, studios have rushed to push all of their films out of the way and into safer territory, when they hoped that theaters would return to normal operations. That hasn’t happened — the United States is experiencing a new wave of the virus, and even though a vaccine appears to be imminent, it’s clear that it will be a while before things go back to normal.
So, Warner Media appears to be hedging its bets by planning to debut its films in theaters when and where it’s safe, and where it isn’t, moviegoers can watch from their homes. The move comes after the studio released Christopher Nolan’s Tenet to theaters to underwhelming box office returns.
According to Variety, all of Warner Bros.’ upcoming films for the next year will debut in both places in the US — that includes its highly-anticipated genre films:
- Godzilla vs. Kong
- The Matrix 4
- The Suicide Squad
- The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
- In the Heights
- The Little Things
- Judas and the Black Messiah
- King Richard
- The Many Saints of Newark
- Mortal Kombat
- Space Jam: A New Legacy
- Those Who Wish Me Dead
- Tom & Jerry
Moreover, the films won’t come with an added surcharge for subscribers.
The plan, according to WarnerMedia chair and CEO Ann Sarnoff, is a “unique one-year plan”, and Variety notes that they don’t plan for it to continue into 2022 and beyond. “No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do,” she wrote. “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.”
The move will likely be good news for the company’s streaming service, HBO Max, which is being set up as a competitor to the likes of Netflix and Disney+. Releasing the films to the streaming service will mean high-profile original content to entice new subscribers, which will help boost the service’s profile and stature against its rivals, some of which have also moved films directly to streaming rather than sending them to theaters.