We’ve already seen one movie after another skip movie theaters for streaming this year thanks to the COVID-19 epidemic, but nothing comes close to what Warner Bros. just announced: Every one of its 2021 films will stream online the same day they hit theaters.
Even with Warner Bros.’s assurances that its day-and-date streaming plans will only last through the end of 2021, it’s still jaw-dropping news, and one can’t help but wonder if the move will forever change the way we go to the movies,
There is some fine print to consider, including the fact that Warner Bros.’s latest movies will stream on HBO Max for only a month following their release dates; after that, the films will continue to play in theaters before eventually heading for iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, and the like. It’s unclear when they’ll return to HBO Max after that.
Warner Bros. parent company WarnerMedia also announced that all the studio’s 2021 movies would debut on HBO Max in 4K and HDR. Until now, HBO Max hasn’t supported 4K or HDR streaming, but Wonder Woman 1984, which is slated to hit HBO Max on Christmas Day, will be the streaming service’s first 4K HDR title.
In all, HBO Max will offer 17 Warner Bros movies on the same day they arrive in theaters, including 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, In The Heights, Space Jam: A New Legacy, The Suicide Squad, Reminiscence, Malignant, Dune, The Many Saints of Newark, King Richard, Cry Macho and Matrix 4.
Shocking though it is, Warner Bros. decision to send its 2021 movie slate directly to HBO Max also feels inevitable. With COVID cases surging around the world, it’s pretty clear that nothing, including going to the movies, will be returning to normal—or even close to normal—before next fall, or even later.
“No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do,” said Ann Sarnoff, Chair and CEO of WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, in a press release. “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.”
Warner Bros. maintains that its “hybrid distribution model” will only last a year, ending (hopefully) around the same time that the pandemic is finally over.
That said, could the traditional movie release window be gone for good? Nothing beats seeing a Hollywood blockbuster on the big screen, but now that so many of us have big 4K screens—and in many cases, high-end audio systems—in our living rooms, complete with HDR, Dolby Vision, and in some cases Dolby Atmos, the convenience of streaming the latest Marvel, Star Wars, or Matrix epic at home will be hard to pass up.
Of course, once we are finally done with COVID, the “theater or streaming?” dilemma will be a good one to have.