Warner Media dropped a bomb on the motion picture industry Thursday, announcing that, in addition to this month’s Wonder Woman 1984, it will drop its entire 2021 release slate on HBO Max at the same time the movies will open in whichever theaters are open.
The move represents a bet by parent company AT&T on growing the footprint and subscriber base of HBO Max, even sacrificing significant amounts of box office revenue in order to do so. Some moviegoers reacted positively, knowing that they'll be able to catch The Suicide Squad, the fourth Matrix movie and the Sopranos prequel in the privacy and safety of their own homes.
But not everyone is happy with the big change. And that’s starting with the beleaguered AMC theater chain.
AMC, which has warned repeatedly in filings in recent months that it’s on the verge of possible insolvency, had reached a deal earlier in the year with Comcast and Universal to shrink the window for Universal releases, from theatrical to premium video-on-demand. But now, AT&T and HBO Max have reduced that window to nothing-with no premium purchases required.
In a statement issued Thursday, AMC CEO Adam Aron expressed his displeasure at the move.
“These coronavirus-impacted times are uncharted waters for all of us, which is why AMC signed on to an HBO Max exception to customary practices for one film only, Wonder Woman 1984, being released by Warner Brothers at Christmas when the pandemic appears that it will be at its height,” Aron said in a statement.
“However, Warner now hopes to do this for all their 2021 theatrical movies, despite the likelihood that with vaccines right around the corner the theatre business is expected to recover. 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 startup. As for AMC, we will do all in our power to ensure that Warner does not do so at our expense. We will aggressively pursue economic terms that preserve our business.”
That last line seems to indicate that AMC will threaten to not allow the Warner slate to play in its theaters-which is what AMC threatened to do to Universal, at the outset of the pandemic, when Trolls World Tour was put out as a premium video-on-demand release.
AMC, however, may not have the leverage to make such demands. According to Deadline, which cited SEC filings, AMC has sold more than 200 million additional shares, in an effort to remain afloat.
Meanwhile, Cineworld Group, which owns rival chain Regal Cinemas, issued a much less combative statement, per Deadline, saying that they “will look to reach an agreement about the proper window and terms that will work for both sides.”
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.