Legendary Pictures is reportedly considering a lawsuit against Warner Bros. Pictures, over the decision to release the upcoming Dune remake on HBO Max, at the same time it's released in theaters. However, according to reports, legal action is, at this point, more of a deterrent, with Legendary reportedly hoping to strike a new deal with WB, in light of the HBO Max release plans. Alternative options reportedly being considered include having WB purchase the films from Legendary, thereby guaranteeing a fair return to Legendary. However, it must be noted that at the current time, it's unclear how Legendary would present the suit, aside from arguing some form of breach of contract.
The devil really may be in the details, here. Variety notes in its report that "[Legendary] didn't have much a say in how its buzzy titles would be released." Traditionally, co-financing deals on big films carry clear stipulations about release plans in theaters, and later on home video. The question is were there strict enough guidelines to how long of a window there is between theatrical and home video/streaming release. Based on what we've seen in 2020 (with films like Disney's Mulan, Sony's Bill & Ted 3, or WB's plan to release Wonder Woman 1984 on HBO Max), there doesn't seem to be much legal obstruction to studios putting their new films out immediately on streaming and bypassing theaters.
And why would there be? Before 2020 no studio would think to push a potential billion-dollar film or franchise onto streaming instead of theaters. Now, producing partners like Legendary - or even the filmmakers themselves - are scrambling to catch up with a quickly-changing landscape within the movie industry.
Legendary co-financed both Dune and Godzilla vs. Kong alongside WB Pictures - and it was a big investment, indeed. Dune costs approximately $175 million to make, while Godzilla vs. Kong costs about $160 million. That's no small chunk of money potentially lost if theaters don't rebound in 2021, while WarnerMedia will at least benefit in the long-term, as HBO Max is now poised to take on Netflix in the drawing subscribers to exclusive premium content, in 2021.
The legality of this HBO Max 2021 movie plan is still being looked at, but some say Warner Bros. is doing something unethical, if not illegal. Legendary was blocked by WarnerMedia from selling Godzilla vs. Kong to Netflix earlier this year, yet WarnerMedia did not inform Legendary about putting that film on HBO Max. Dune director Denis Villeneuve is similarly feeling "disappointed" that his film isn't getting the exclusive big-screen release he intended. As Dune was supposed to be a two-part project, that tension could grow into a bigger problem, down the line.
Everyone is now watching to see how Warner Bros. big experiment may or may not forever alter the movie industry. Of course, there is one big caveat in all this: Warner Bros. plans still seem somewhat fluid: if the COVID-19 pandemic dies down, an theater attendance goes up, it wouldn't be surprising if the promise of those big movies on HBO Max is rescinded, by the time a film like Dune is set to release in fall 2021. That fluidity in planning may make it even harder for Legendary to establish firm ground for a legal case.
Godzilla vs. Kong is set for release on May 21, 2021 - Dune is planned for release on May 21, 2021. Both films are currently slated to be released simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max.