WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar says he "absolutely" believes in the theatrical marketplace in the wake of Thursday's news that Warner Bros. will send its entire 2021 slate to HBO Max, where 17 titles will release on the same day they open in theaters. After the AT&T-owned company announced a day-and-date release for Wonder Woman 1984, by far the biggest film to go straight to the streaming service launched in May, WarnerMedia made the unprecedented move to send next year's releases to HBO Max at no extra cost to subscribers. Anticipated titles like Dune, The Matrix 4, and The Suicide Squad will all start streaming on HBO Max the same day those titles release into theaters — but Kilar says it's not a precedent-setting move.
"I absolutely believe in the theatrical marketplace. I say that with conviction because I know fans care about it. I know I count myself as one of the more ardent fans of the theatrical experience," Kilar told Deadline when asked if this distribution strategy is the new way of doing things. "I believe 10 years from now, 20 years from now, 50 years from now, there is going to be a robust theatrical marketplace, and I say that because there are very few things that can compete on a Friday night when you're going out with someone that you love, to a cinema, and being told a great story on a gigantic screen, in a communal setting and in an environment that is new and interesting to you. And I just think that's going to persist for decades and beyond that."
In a statement, Kilar described this hybrid exhibition model as a one-year plan and said the initiative was determined to be "the best way for WarnerMedia's motion picture business to navigate the next 12 months" amid ongoing theater closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
"As to what the world looks like after 2021, I have no grand proclamations to make. Our focus, candidly, is on the here and now," Kilar told Deadline. "We're focused on getting through this pandemic like any business is, and we're putting a lot of brain cells against what the right thing is to do to serve fans and to serve partners and to server ourselves. And all those things are important to do and that's what our focus is, obviously that is what we announced today."
AMC Theatres chairman and CEO Adam Aron is among those pushing back against the move, saying WarnerMedia "intends to sacrifice a considerable portion of the profitability of its movie studio division, and that of its production partners and filmmakers, to subsidize its HBO Max startup."
Aron added the theater chain "will do all in our power to ensure that Warner does not do so at our expense," and that it will "aggressively pursue economic terms that preserve our business."