Warner Brothers has announced that their 2021 slate of releases, including high-profile films such as Dune and The Matrix 4, will premiere on the streaming platform HBO Max.
The new hybrid release model will see 17 films launch online for US subscribers at the same time as they are released in cinemas, where available. They will then be available to watch for a month for no extra charge. The films will still receive a standard theatrical release internationally.
“We’re living in unprecedented times which call for creative solutions,” said Jason Kilar, CEO of WarnerMedia. “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.”
Warner’s lineup features major big-budget titles such as Godzilla vs Kong, James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, a long-awaited fourth Matrix film, sequels to Space Jam and The Conjuring and Denis Villeneuve’s new interpretation of Dune, which carries with it a reported budget of $200m. Also included is a string of awards-aiming fare including King Richard which stars Will Smith as the father to Venus and Serena Williams and In the Heights, an adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical.
It’s been described as “a temporary plan” but will be a much-needed boost for HBO Max which launched earlier this year and has been struggling to attract subscribers ever since. Fewer than 9 million people have signed up while about 28 million existing HBO users haven’t activated their accounts, which come free with current plans.
The news follows a difficult year for the studio, heavily affected by cinema closures as a result of the ongoing pandemic. Warners had tried to revive the box office with the release of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet but the sci-fi thriller saw underwhelming returns in the US with less than $60m in the bank.
The studio then decided to release tentpole sequel Wonder Woman 1984 on HBO Max on Christmas Day as well as in cinemas where available. It’s estimated that the film will need to make 40% more than Tenet’s global total to break even.
“At some point you have to choose to share any love and joy you have to give, over everything else,” Wonder Woman 1984 director Patty Jenkins said at the time.
Rival studio Universal recently reached agreements with a number of US exhibitors to show their films while allowing a 17-day window before a digital release. While some cinemas across the US remain open, the two main markets – Los Angeles and New York – have yet to announce when they will follow suit with infection rates rising in both cities.
Global box office is set to fall by an estimated 66% in 2020.
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