Warner Brothers shook the movie industry on Thursday afternoon when it announced every single one of its 2021 movie titles will be released on HBO Max. The new streaming service will house every single new movie title on release day for one month while the film simultaneously plays in theaters, giving audiences the option to buy tickets to watch on a big screen in a movie theater or to watch from home at no extra charge on top of their HBO Max subscription fee. Wonder Woman 1984 will be the first to follow this model from Warner Brothers as this model is the first of its kind but almost certainly will not be the last.
Throughout 2020, movie studios and movie theater chains have lost billions of dollars in revenue as the coronavirus pandemic shuttered theaters around the world. In August, the United States tried to get its theater chains back open with titles ranging in size from the smaller Unhinged with Russell Crowe to what would have been a surefire blockbuster with Christopher Nolan's Tenet. In both of these cases and others like The New Mutants, the box office did not show signs of life as people were not eager to gather in theaters amidst the pandemic despite social distancing policies, air filtration systems, and new cleaning measures for added layers of protection to the audience's health.
Now, Warner Brothers is the first studio to reveal a plan to guarantee its films hit their release dates in an already crowded year of blockbuster titles. They likely won't be the last as Disney, Paramount, and others will likely follow suit.
Taking into consideration that HBO Max does not boast subscription numbers remotely close to those of Netflix or Disney+ which likely influenced the decision as a means to get new users on the platform (which is still not available on Roku devices) but streaming is the only certainty in the foreseeable future. Guaranteed monthly subscription dollars are a huge draw for studios and networks, now coming at an expedited cost to movie theaters as the pandemic has forced them to close down with studios seeking other means of revenue.
Disney+ experimented with a "Premiere Access" release of Mulan earlier this year, dropping the film on its streaming service for an added fee of $29.99 in the United States - a cost on top of the monthly subscription fee. On December 10, Disney might reveal more such plans and will at a minimum certainly be asked to react to the move by WB on a publicly available investor's call. While the studio has plenty of time between now and May to decide on the fate of Black Widow's release, the studio seems unlikely to push back its Marvel titles any more than they have. With Disney+ shows connecting to the movie stories, titles like Black Widow, Shang-Chi, Eternals, and others will need to be revealed to preserve spoilers and story points for the interconnected shows like WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, Hawkeye, and more. Further delays not only prevent box office dollars from arriving but also fail to provide audiences with new content on Disney's all-important Disney+ streaming service.
The twist here by comparison to Warner Brothers is that Disney+ already has an amount of subscribers with is significantly larger than that of HBO Max, so an added cost for these movies if they are released solely on the streaming service or jointly in theaters seems very likely.
Then, we have to look at titles like A Quiet Place Part 2 and the G.I. Joe spinoff movie Snake Eyes. Both of these Paramount films have an opportunity to call attention to the ViacomCBS owned CBS All Access, which will become Paramount+ in the new year. The studio has popular movie franchises like Sonic the Hedgehog, Transformers, and Mission: Impossible which it can use to leverage interest in subscriptions but there is no doubt that the due out in 2021 A Quiet Place Part 2 and Snake Eyes could call a welcome and hearty bit of attention from the studio's perspective.
Meanwhile, Universal is building its Peacock service, which would claim titles like Fast & Furious 9, Minions: The Rise of Gru, and The Forever Purge. This seems like most unpredictable streaming service in regards to decisions regarding releasing major titles originally intended for theatrical debuts on a subscription service. However, Universal has already shown itself to be eager to release a few titles, even to the dismay of major theater chains. (but, there's been a fair bit of that going around every time any studio makes such a decision). Peacock is in a similar boat as HBO Max in terms of needing to gets its service downloaded onto and subscribed to by new devices and users to pump the numbers up.
In addition to growing streaming numbers, these movies all need to be marketed in one way or another with a concrete release date. Marketing trains can't be leaving their stations without a guaranteed release date of the product they are selling. Simultaneous release in theaters and on streaming services allow the studios to promote their titles (and services) with a known date where consumers can consume. The timeline for theaters being crowded for big releases is completely unknown and certainly not as optimistic as it was when the world thought we were simply staying home for "2 weeks." Safe options which bolster businesses are the easy and best available win from the studio perspective, for now.1comments
For now, it's a waiting game on decisions to be made and/or revealed but the likelihood of major titles heading to streaming services in 2021 (some at an added cost). Movie theaters are certainly going to continue their struggle as at home viewing of many major titles which once drew massive crowds will now be diluted through the end of 2021, even if the masses are decided to be safe to gather in theaters. Will theaters be yet another loss of 2020?
Are you hoping to see movies like Black Widow, A Quiet Place Part 2, No Time to Die, and others on streaming services or do you want to be back in a movie theater for the experience? Share your thoughts in the comment section or send them my way on Instagram.