At an investor conference last Wednesday, Warner Bros.’ CEO Ann Sarnoff reaffirmed her studio’s decision to release their new features in 2022 with a 45-day exclusive theatrical window. Sarnoff explained that, despite the continued disruptions in moviegoing caused by the COVID pandemic, the studio had made commitments to theatres, agents and talent to release new features in theatres.
Warner Bros.’ 2021 experiment with day & date releasing may have resulted in an increased number of HBO Max subscriptions, but this came at the expense of box office returns. Nine of the ten highest domestic grosses in 2021 were for movies released exclusively in theatres. In addition, Warner Bros.’s shift today & date releasing created friction with talent, especially because many talent contracts included financial incentives based on box office performance. In particular, a number of high-profile filmmakers were incensed, most notably Christopher Nolan who proclaimed, “some of our industry’s biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service.” After making his films with Warner Bros. over the last 20 years, Nolan has since decided to work with Universal on his next feature.
Evidently, Warner Bros. execs have determined that the benefits of exclusive theatrical releasing once again outweigh its limitations.