In an unprecedented and pivotal move, one of Hollywood’s biggest studios will swap cinemas for streaming platforms for its 2021 slate.
Due to the poor containment of COVID-19 in the US, Warner Bros. has decided to supplement all upcoming theatre releases for next year’s lineup by also releasing them on the HBO Max streaming service.
The films, including The Matrix 4, Dune and Mortal Kombat, will be available to stream on the platform for one month, starting the same day they hit the big screen.
The move comes after Warner Bros. announced it will follow a similar formula for Wonder Woman: 1984 which is due to premiere on December 25.
Critics have argued the movie may be the final nail in the coffin for struggling cinemas in the US.
Though films are still expected to be released in cinemas Down Under, experts believe it won’t be long until Australia sees the effects of the deal.
Associate Professor Bruce Isaacs, senior lecturer in Film Studies at the University of Sydney, said though the decision is only intended to affect US theatres, it will still have consequences in Australia and worldwide.
“It won’t be the death of cinema,” Professor Isaacs told The New Daily.
But studios are really starting to think about what the best financial model for cinema entertainment going forward, and I can’t see how that keeps Australia out of the picture.
“This is a continuation of some really big transformations that have taken place over the last couple of years … especially in the mainstream. We really are subject to huge corporations and the way they operate.”
WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar said the decision would give fans flexibility to experience films that would otherwise face challenging releases, like Warner Bros. earlier mid-pandemic premiere, Tenet.
“We are planning to bring consumers 17 remarkable movies throughout the year, giving them the choice and the power to decide how they want to enjoy these films,” Mr Kilar said.
“Our content is extremely valuable, unless it’s sitting on a shelf not being seen by anyone. We believe this approach serves our fans, supports exhibitors and filmmakers, and enhances the HBO Max experience, creating value for all.”
Sources say studio partners like Legendary Entertainment, which co-produced upcoming action thriller Godzilla vs Kong, were not notified of the decision.
Curtain call on cinemas…
Professor Isaacs believes the Warner Bros. streaming deal will cripple cinemas and may make it even harder to return to those that survive in a post-COVID world.
“They’re gonna do it for a period of time, they’re not saying this will be the dominant model, but they’re gonna do it because they believe their audiences can’t get access because of COVID especially in the US,” he said.
“It means that the competition around huge blockbuster entertainment is no longer all-anchored at theatre chains.
“I don’t know how you can then convince people that, ‘Okay, we’re going to take [the option to stream] away, and now we want you to go back to the movies and pay your $20’.”
Ann Sarnoff, chair and CEO of WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, reassured moviegoers and theatre operators that the decision was only temporary.
“We’re living in unprecedented times which call for creative solutions, including this new initiative for the Warner Bros. Pictures Group,” Ms Sarnoff said
“No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do. We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theatres in the US 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 theatres 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.”
Warner Bros. 2021 release lineup features a number of highly anticipated filming, including LeBron James film Space Jam: A New Legacy, The Suicide Squad, Little Things, Judas and the Black Messiah, Malignant, In The Heights, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, King Richard, The Many Saints of Newark and Cry Macho.