One of 2020’s last big blockbusters, Wonder Woman 1984, will simultaneously be released in theaters and on HBO Max on December 25th.
Unlike Mulan, Wonder Woman 1984 won’t cost anything extra beyond the monthly subscription fee. HBO Max subscribers will have the opportunity to watch the film directly from home. The streaming service costs $14.99 a month. The move comes as uncertainty grows over whether theaters will remain open as cases surge across the United States. Even if they do remain open, however, it’s uncertain whether people will actually attend screenings. This way, WarnerMedia can boost its HBO Max subscribers and still give people around the world (where HBO Max is not available) the ability to watch it in theaters.
“To provide a comparable, a little over four million fans in the U.S. enjoyed the first Wonder Woman movie on its opening day in 2017,” Jason Kilar, WarnerMedia CEO, wrote in a blog post, acknowledging issues brought on by the pandemic. “Is it possible for that to happen again this Christmas with Wonder Woman 1984 between theaters and HBO Max?”
Recently, Warner Bros. moved Denis Villeneuve’s Dune to October 1st, 2021 — a move many industry insiders saw coming when Warner Bros. first pushed Wonder Woman 1984 from its October 1st release date (the most recent in a series of delays for the film from the studio) to just after Dune’s initial scheduled release. It didn’t make sense for Dune and Wonder Woman 1984 to compete with each other at the box office.
The announcement also comes just after theater chains Regal and Cineworld announced they would be shuttering all of their theaters essentially for the rest of 2020. Once MGM announced that No Time To Die, the latest James Bond movie, was going to move to 2021, there weren’t many movie options left that would get people into theaters during the holiday season. Disney delayed its anticipated Black Widow to 2021. Soul, the new film from Disney Pixar, also moved to Disney Plus. Now, Wonder Woman 1984 will compete with Disney and Pixar’s Soul — just not at the box office.
It’s apparent the film industry is doing two things this year: embracing direct-to-consumer options like streaming (Disney Plus, Peacock, HBO Max) and looking at 2020 as mostly a wash for the biggest films of the year. As the world struggles to figure out when things might return to normal, Hollywood is figuring out when to gamble releasing its most expensive films, some of which would likely generate $1 billion at the box office in the Before Times.
“We are committed to the theatrical experience and we believe giving exhibitors a movie of this nature is important right now,” Kilar wrote.
Warner Bros. learned a tough lesson with Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, a movie that performed well internationally but saw little return in the US as theaters in key markets like Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco remain closed. The most difficult part for studio executives remains trying to figure out how people’s behavior might change, even when life starts to return to some normalcy. Will people still venture out to theaters en masse to watch a new blockbuster movie as soon as theaters reopen, if those theaters can survive until then? Nobody knows.
For now, if the movies slated to be released in 2021 keep their release dates, at least that’ll be a pretty packed year. But nothing is certain in life anymore, and as we’ve learned from this year, movie release dates are especially uncertain.
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