HBO Max just decimated the movie theater industry

Published on December 3, 2020

Warner Bros. has just changed the game with their announcement for HBO Max. Starting next year, the studio will release all of their high-profile theatrical releases simultaneously on the streaming service. Every 2021 film from Warner Bros., including Dune and Matrix 4, will be available to stream.

Every movie will be available for a month after opening day on HBO Max before leaving the platform. Here are a few of the major 2021 releases now coming to the streaming service next year: Godzilla vs. Kong, The Little Things (starring Denzel Washington), In the Heights (Lin Manuel-Miranda’s musical), Space Jam: A New Legacy, The Suicide Squad, and Clint Eastwood’s Cry Macho. The list of movies goes on, making HBO Max perhaps the new king of streaming services when it comes to major, star-headlined movies. 

It all starts this month with Wonder Woman 1984, which the studio is releasing in available theaters and on HBO Max. However, the plan could change for future 2021 releases. “This is a temporary 2021 plan,” said Warner Bros. Pictures Group chief operating officer Carolyn Blackwood. “We have to support exhibition with the product. We don’t think we’re changing the economics of these movies any more than the pandemic has. We’re adding another interval and period for revenue with HBO Max.”

There’s no doubt the decision will entice millions of new HBO Max’s subscribers. For better or worse, the decision is another step into the future of releasing movies. “After considering all available options and the projected state of moviegoing throughout 2021, we came to the conclusion that this was the best way for WarnerMedia’s motion picture business to navigate the next 12 months,” said WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar. “More importantly, we are planning to bring consumers 17 remarkable movies throughout the year, giving them the choice and the power to decide how they want to enjoy these films. Our content is extremely valuable, unless it’s sitting on a shelf not being seen by anyone. We believe this approach serves our fans, supports exhibitors and filmmakers, and enhances the HBO Max experience, creating value for all.”

It’s another blow to theaters. Earlier this year, Universal Pictures put some salt in their would by announcing they’d release more high-profile movies on streaming. Eventually, AMC Theaters struck a deal with the studio to allow VOD releases a month after opening. Due to the pandemic, theatrical owners’ chips are down, and there’s little to do to stop studios from doing what they will with their movies. With a vaccine on the way and an already disastrous year for theater owners, there’s no question this HBO Max is another devastating blow to theater owners. 

Most theater owners and companies have yet to respond to the news, but Cinemark issued a statement that doesn’t make their feelings known. “In light of the current operating environment, we are making near-term booking decisions on a film-by-film basis,” a representative said. “At this time, Warner Bros. has not provided any details for the hybrid distribution model of their 2021 films.” Cinemaker never responded about the Wonder Woman 1984 news, although AMC Theaters issued a statement showing understanding for the decision.

For movie fans who don’t feel safe going to the movies until vaccinated, it’s great news. Not all movie fans can afford or make their way to movies in the first place, either, so they now have an option to watch from home. For theater owners, however, it’s terrible news. Will movie theaters ever go the way of Tower Records? It’s a drastic question, but Warner Bros’ decision is drastic as well. It’s worrisome for theater owners, especially locally owned theaters already facing an uphill battle for 2021. 

As for HBO Max, it’s already the premier source for great movies. Unlike Netflix, it’s loaded with classic films. There’s more variety in options when it comes to film. With the latest news, HBO Max will be releasing the biggest movies of 2021.

Jack Giroux is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Los Angeles, he is an entertainment journalist who's previously written for Thrillist, Slash Film, Film School Rejects, and The Film Stage.

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