On the heels of Wonder Woman 1984 being released in theaters and on HBO Max simultaneously on December 25, 2020, it looks like Warner Bros. is adopting the same strategy for all of its 2021 releases.
That means The Matrix 4, The Suicide Squad, Godzilla vs. Kong, Dune, and Space Jam: A New Legacy will all be available for streaming day-and-date with their theatrical premieres. Make no mistake, this indicates a massive shift in how people will consume media going forward.
The move makes sense, given the current state of the world in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While a vaccine roll-out is imminent, it will be a while until it’s widely available for a majority of the population.
That means many people still won’t be able to safely go to movie theaters for much of 2021. Allowing numerous movies to finally be released gives people more entertainment options as the country continues to struggle.
The question arises: what does this mean for the future of movie-watching? There’s still a lot we don’t know, but the announcement leaves plenty to ponder. Let’s take a look at what this could mean for the industry.
What does this mean for movie theaters?
Movie theaters as a whole have been on the decline for a while now, and the COVID-19 pandemic absolutely exacerbated the trend (via South Florida Media Network). The rising cost of movie tickets combined with excessive concession costs means a family of four could easily spend $100 on a night out at the movies.
It seems as though many people would prefer to stay home — pandemic or not — and now, Warner Bros. is giving them what they want.
The news isn’t all bad for theaters. The announcement states that the films will be released in theaters concurrently with HBO Max. In fact, the movies will only be available on HBO Max for the first month, meaning if you want to see them after that, then you’ll have to go to a theater or rent it VOD.
It’s unlikely movie theaters will go away entirely, but it’s not crazy to think of a future where theaters are reserved for major blockbusters while indie and prestige films get sent straight to streaming.
2020 has been a bad year for movie theaters, and with the ever-lingering threat of coronavirus, it could be a while until things are back to normal. While Warner Bros. has announced this strategy for 2021, it’s unclear if this will be the path going forward into 2022.
No doubt the company wants to see how its profits manage with this dual-release method before making any long-term plans. Theaters are hurting, and once most of the population is vaccinated, hopefully, people return to keep them afloat.
How will rival studios respond?
Warner Bros. aggressively trying to get people to its streaming service is a big step, and right now, it’s unclear how other major players will respond. While HBO Max having The Matrix 4 and The Suicide Squad available at the same time they hit the big screen is a big deal, it would also be pretty devastating for theaters if Disney took the same strategy with Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The studio has sent some smaller films like Artemis Fowl to Disney+, but it would be a much bigger deal if the company tried that idea with something like Black Widow. Sure, Disney released Mulan directly to the streaming service, but considering the lukewarm reception to both the movie itself and its premium price strategy (something Warner is not doing with its HBO Max pipeline), it’s understandable if the company wants to take a different approach to its films.
Then there’s Universal, which has the likes of Jurassic World 3 and Fast and Furious 9 slated for the coming year, and their own in-house streaming service in Peacock. Our guess is that these other studios are waiting to see how Wonder Woman 1984 and other Warner Bros. films fare with this strategy.
If it turns out to be profitable, then similar announcements could follow in the months to come. On the other hand, if Warner Bros. believes it’s lost money on the gambit, then it could be proof that theaters aren’t going anywhere any time soon.
The one thing we know is that the entertainment industry is in the midst of a fundamental shift, and the next few years will be crucial in determining how audiences will watch movies for quite some time to come.