Warner Bros. Movies Will Premiere in Theaters Before HBO Max in 2022
Movie studios have taken different approaches to dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. Some have sold many of their big-ticket movies to streaming services hungry for content; Paramount, for example, wound up sending a big chunk of their 2020-21 slate to Amazon, with Coming 2 America, Without Remorse, and The Tomorrow War all debuting on Prime Video this spring and summer. Disney has tried a variety of tactics; delaying some movies, premiering others on Disney+, and even offering some on streaming with an added $30 fee to try to offset some of the losses they incur by bypassing a traditional theatrical release.
No studio took a bigger risk, or garnered more anger from artists and theaters than Warner Bros., who announced in late 2020 that they weren’t waiting to see how the year panned out; they were making the decision right then and there to debut all their 2021 films on HBO Max the same day they opened in theaters at no additional cost to subscribers. Warners got a huge selling point for their new streaming service, even if it came at the cost of their reputation with some directors. (Christopher Nolan reacted to the news by declaring in a public statement that HBO Max is “the worst streaming service.” By the way, Christopher Nolan’s Tenet premieres on HBO Max on May 1.)
So far Warners has premiered The Little Things, Tom and Jerry, Judas and the Black Messiah, and Godzilla vs. Kong on HBO Max. Viewership and subscription data is almost impossible to find for any of these streaming services, so it’s not really clear how this plan is going. (We do know, at least, that Godzilla vs. Kong had the biggest opening weekend of the entire pandemic despite its streaming release.) But however much money Warner Bros. is making, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be enough for the company to make simultaneous theatrical and HBO Max releases their policy for the long term. Speaking with Vox, Warner Bros. CEO Jason Kilar made it clear that the company plans on returning to a theaters first, streaming later model in 2022. As he put it:
I think it’s very fair to say that a big, you know, let’s say a big DC movie … it’s very fair to say that that would go exclusively to theaters first and then go to somewhere like an HBO Max after it’s in theaters.
Kilar did say he’s “pleased” with how the HBO Max experiment is going, and believes the strategy has “generated more interest in HBO Max and kept existing subscribers from leaving the service.” He also admitted it was “bumpy” when Warners unveiled the plan, and if he could do it all over again he “would have taken a couple more days to see if we could have had even more conversations” with the “Hollywood community.” (Note to self: Never unveil massive paradigm shift in the theatrical industry without first talking to Christopher Nolan.)
Personally, I haven’t been back to a movie theater since my own (very mixed) private screening experience last fall to see Tenet. It’s been great to have big movies to look forward to each month on HBO Max, even though only one of them (the Oscar nominated Judas and the Black Messiah) has really been the kind of thing I would have felt satisfied to have paid $20 to see. I’m pretty confident when the pandemic improves people will return to theaters, especially for Godzilla vs. Kong sized event films. What I’m less certain of is what happens to HBO Max when it loses these big monthly premieres. Speaking of which, Mortal Kombat debuts in theaters and on HBO Max on April 23.
Gallery — The Warner Bros. Movies Coming to HBO Max This Year: