The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has led to many public venues closing or operating at reduced capacity, including movie theaters. Some studios have experimented with releasing films on streaming services instead of theatrical releases, occasionally causing fights with theater companies, and now Warner Bros. has announced all of its 2021 films will be released on HBO Max at the same time as they debut in theaters.
"Warner Bros. will continue to exhibit the films theatrically worldwide," the company said in a blog post, "while adding an exclusive one month access period on the HBO Max streaming platform in the U.S. concurrent with the film’s domestic release. The hybrid model was created as a strategic response to the impact of the ongoing global pandemic, particularly in the U.S. Following the one month HBO Max access period domestically, each film will leave the platform and continue theatrically in the U.S. and international territories, with all customary distribution windows applying to the title."
Warner's current release schedule for 2021 includes 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. Wonder Woman 1984 is due to be released in two weeks (December 16th), and will follow the same release schedule as Warner's 2021 lineup.
Releasing movies simultaneously on a streaming service (which is owned by Warner's parent company, AT&T) instead of encouraging movie fans to catch COVID is about the least a movie studio could do right now. However, the move by Warner is still the largest bet on streaming releases we've seen yet. Most other studios are still holding larger releases for a post-vaccine world (No Time to Die), or gambling their movies' successes on international box office sales (Tenet, Mulan).