Even with a promising vaccine on the way, this pandemic is far from over. The question on everyone’s one mind is: When will things return to normal? Many industries have had to make significant changes to their business models and some of these changes will prove to be more permanent than others. On Thursday morning, WarnerMedia announced a new strategy for their films going into the new year. Even though they claim they’re not looking at it as a long term strategy, it definitely feels like it could turn into one.
WarnerMedia made the announcement that all of their 2021 movies will be releasing in open theatres and on HBO Max on the same day. This is what’s known as a “day and date” release. Before the pandemic, many independent movies would do a similar model of releasing their movies on video on demand (VOD) and in theatres. But after the pandemic, major studios needed to try and adopt a new model. Universal Studios decided to try and release Bill & Ted Face the Music day and date on VOD, and Disney released Mulan on Disney+ for an extra $30 on top of the monthly subscription.
Both of those models worked well, and even though many were strongly opposed to circumventing the theatre system like this, it seemed the best way to get the movies out to the public. Disney made waves once again by announcing that their new Pixar movie Soul will be released exclusively on Disney+ for no added cost, on December 25th of this year. A big move to be sure, but perhaps a necessary one. With many theatres in the country still not able to open in major metropolitan areas, these movies would end up making less at the box office then they normally would have.
The precedent was really set by WarnerMedia releasing Christopher Nolan’s new movie Tenet in theatres, at the director’s insistence. Tenet was the “golden child” movie, released in mid July (the date everyone seemed to think the pandemic would end) the hope was that it would “save” the theatre going experience. Sadly, it did not, and the pandemic only got worse and worse. Tenet didn’t fail at the domestic box office, but it didn’t do the numbers that Warners needed, and certainly didn’t do the numbers that the other studios were looking for.
A few weeks ago, Warners announced that Wonder Woman 1984 would be released in movie theatres and on HBO Max, at no extra cost, on December 25th of this year. One certainly has to wonder why they want to get these movies out so quickly. None of these movies will make the same numbers that they normally would have, even if subscriber numbers go up. Wonder Woman 1984 was projecting to make $1 billion at the box office, but with theatre attendance at an, understandably, all time low, it’s unlikely the box office performance of the film will even break $500 million. Mix that in with new subscribers to HBO Max, and the movie might only barely break even. Normally that would kill a franchise like this, but perhaps studios are making concessions for any underperformances due to the current circumstances.
All year now, studios have been claiming release dates and then shifting them around, trying to predict when the market will rebound. Perhaps, Warners just wants to do something nice for audiences, or perhaps, this makes the most financial sense for them right now. We can’t know unless we were flies on the wall. Warners has assured everyone that this is just the business model for the 2021 movie season, and will not affect the 2022 movie season. But it’s likely that if this is a rousing success, then this could be the new normal for WarnerMedia from now on.
Shortly after this news broke, the internet was ablaze with cheers and jeers alike, many lamenting the end of the theatre industry once again. Chief among the lamenters was AMC itself, who said “clearly, Warner Media 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 start up,”. Harsh words to be sure, but AMC has been waging this war for months now, trying desperately to get all of their worldwide theatres opened and even banning Universal movies from being shown at them after Universal Studios said that some of their movies will be day and date with VOD and theatre distribution.
AMC, like all the other major theatre chains, are just scared that they’re industry won’t make a full recovery, much like all the other industries in this country. Afterall, the stocks of every major theatre chain plummeted after this news went out. Even so, theatre and box office analysts are still optimistic that theatres will make a significant rebound thanks to The Croods: A New Age which has done very well during the pandemic since it opened on thanksgiving weekend. Some even suggest that the theatre experience will become a purer experience since it won’t be the only way to experience a blockbuster film anymore. That the only people who will continue to go to the theatres are the ones who covet the experience and don’t want to let it go. Which means less people on their phones and less people talking throughout.
So, until this whole catastrophe is over, we can look forward to seeing big budget blockbusters like Godzilla vs. Kong, The Suicide Squad and The Matric 4 on HBO Max, or in an open movie theatre, come next year. No more shuffling release dates for Warners.