WarnerMedia shocked the industry with its announcement on Thursday that the entire slate of Warner Bros. films scheduled for a 2021 theatrical release would premiere simultaneously on the company’s HBO Max streaming service. The Warner Bros. 2021 release schedule is made up of 17 films, including likely blockbusters “Dune”, “The Matrix 4”, “Godzilla vs. Kong” and “The Suicide Squad”.
In their announcement, Warner Bros. executives emphasized that this arrangement was for one year only, born out of the unique circumstances forced on the industry by the COVID-19 pandemic which is keeping audiences away from theatres. Most exhibitors expressed displeasure with WB’s unilateral decision to eliminate completely the exclusive release window for theatres. Many had expected other studios to follow suit with Universal’s recent arrangement with exhibitors, in which a 17-day minimum theatrical window would be maintained.
Analysts commented that WarnerMedia’s #1 priority was to boost HBO Max into the ranks of the leading streaming services, alongside Disney+, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV+. However, it should be noted that the studio is re-affirming its commitment to release all its major films to theatres, rather than removing them from the theatrical release schedule, as other studios have done in some cases with certain titles.