DALLAS — A bombshell hit Hollywood Thursday after Warner Bros. announced that it would debut its entire 2021 theatrical release slate on HBO Max, the studio’s underperforming streaming service.
The news was met with a backlash among theater chains, which are already struggling to survive in the pandemic.
Warner Bros. has 17 films coming out next year, which includes box office hits like a “Suicide Squad” sequel, “Dune,” “Godzilla vs. Kong” and “The Matrix 4.”
Per the announcement, those films and many more will be available on HBO Max alongside their theatrical releases.
“Wonder Woman 1984” will be the first film to stream on HBO Max on Dec. 25, while simultaneously being released in theaters.
AMC, the world’s largest theater chain, gave a strong reaction to the announcement.
Adam Aron, CEO and president of AMC Entertainment, sent the following statement to the Hollywood Reporter:
“Clearly, Warner Media intends to sacrifice a considerable portion of the profitability of its movie studio division, and that of its production partners and filmmakers, to subsidize its HBO Max startup. As for AMC, we will do all in our power to ensure that Warner does not do so at our expense. We will aggressively pursue economic terms that preserve our business."
Aron concluded by saying that, “As this issue gets sorted out, we are nonetheless encouraged that vaccines protecting society at large against the coronavirus are very much at hand. So, it is our expectation that moviegoers soon will be able once again to delight in coming to our theatres without any worry -- viewing the world’s best movies safely in our big seats, with our big sound, and on our big screens."
Plano-based Cinemark gave a less strongly worded statement saying through a spokesperson:
"In light of the current operating environment, we are making near-term booking decisions on a film-by-film basis. At this time, Warner Bros. has not provided any details for the hybrid distribution model of their 2021 films.”
In Texas, theaters have struggled since COVID-19 arrived.
They were allowed to reopen in May but many larger chains waited it out.
Cinemark didn’t reopen until June.
Still, in the most recent quarter, Cinemark’s revenues were down 96%. AMC’s were down 91%.
Alamo Drafthouse, a beloved theater/restaurant hybrid chain in Texas, recently made the decision to close all of its theaters.
For Texas filmmaker Chris Hansen, Thursday’s news brings questions he’d rather not ask.
One of which being, will more studios follow Warner Bros. to the dismay of theater chains?
“That’s a massive shift and clearly the chains aren’t happy,” Hansen said. “It affects their ability to stay in business.”
Hansen himself has faced disappointment in the pandemic.
He’s had at least five films shown at festivals around Dallas in recent years and his latest film “Seven Short Films About (Our) Marriage” was going to premiere in California at a festival in March before the pandemic canceled it
The movie later premiered virtually at a Dallas festival.
“We lost a lot of things in the pandemic and gathering to see movies collectively is one of those things,” Hansen said. “All of a sudden, nobody can see anything.”
Hansen, who is also a film professor at Baylor University, hopes that a vaccine gets people back in front of the silver screen.
What he doesn’t wish is to see theaters shut their doors for good, but it’s a possibility hanging over the culture of cinema with everything that’s happened this year.
“When we’re able to go out safely again, what’s going to be left?” Hansen said. “I think we’re going to have some theaters, but I think we’re going to lose a lot too.”