When AT&T and Warner Media announced last month that they would debut “Women Woman 1984” on HBO Max the same day that it came out in theaters, it was seen as something of a game-changer. Never before has a company that owns both a movie studio and streaming service decided to sacrifice the potential for future box office revenue in order to grow its streaming product.
Now, Warner has doubled down on that strategy—although doubling is an understatement.
The company division known as the Warner Brothers Pictures Group announced Thursday that it will release its entire slate of 2021 movies through what it calls “a unique, consumer-focused distribution model.” The films will be released theatrically worldwide, in whichever movie theaters are open, and also on HBO Max for one-month engagements in the United States.
But the release strategy isn’t just for blockbusters—it’s for every movie Warner plans to release next year. Those include the sci-fi fantasy epic “Dune,” the musical “In the Heights,” the Lebron James-led sequel “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” the DC superhero film “The Suicide Squad,” and the fourth “Matrix” movie. The slate also includes “The Many Saints of Newark,” the long-awaited prequel movie to “The Sopranos,” which will now debut on a version of the channel, HBO, where the original series aired.
Also on the docket are “The Little Things,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Tom & Jerry,” “Godzilla vs. Kong,” “Mortal Kombat,” “Those Who Wish Me Dead,” “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” “Reminiscence,” “Malignant,” “King Richard,” and Clint Eastwood’s “Cry Macho.”
The company has not said that it will keep this release strategy alive beyond 2021, nor what it will do if any of the listed films end up having their release dates pushed into 2022. The company’s next “Batman” movie, “The Batman,” is currently set to come out in March of 2022.
Warner, though, appears committed to keeping the hybrid model up, even if vaccines end the pandemic at some point in 2021.
“We’re living in unprecedented times which call for creative solutions, including this new initiative for the Warner Bros. Pictures Group,” Ann Sarnoff, Chair and CEO, WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, said in the announcement.
“No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do. We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theaters in the U.S. will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021. With this unique one-year plan, we can support our partners in exhibition with a steady pipeline of world-class films, while also giving moviegoers who may not have access to theaters or aren’t quite ready to go back to the movies the chance to see our amazing 2021 films. We see it as a win-win for film lovers and exhibitors, and we’re extremely grateful to our filmmaking partners for working with us on this innovative response to these circumstances.”
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.