HBO Max to air Matrix 4, Dune, all Warner Bros. 2021 movies on same day as theaters

HBO Max launched in May and has struggled to gain the same traction as Disney Plus.

Angela Lang / CNET

HBO Max will be streaming movies like The Matrix 4, Dune, and all new Warner Bros. movies for a theatrical release next year, making them available to watch at no additional cost online on the same day they debut. on the big screen. Each movie will be on HBO Max, which costs $ 15 a month, for a month, and then the movies will leave the streaming service to be exclusively in theaters.

The unprecedented move comes three weeks before Wonder Woman 1984, a mega-budget Warner Bros. movie, premiered on Max the same day it was released in theaters in the United States. Warner Bros. is essentially turning its Wonder Woman release strategy into its new standard for the coming year. HBO Max is owned by telecommunications giant AT&T, through its WarnerMedia entertainment unit, which also operates the Warner Bros. studio.

HBO Max executives rejected the idea that this drastic change in HBO Max’s proposition to streaming customers would affect the service. ongoing discussions with Roku. More than seven months since the launch, HBO Max and Roku haven’t reached a deal, which means Roku customers still cannot access Max’s app. Roku’s streaming devices are among the nation’s most popular gadgets for streaming video to TVs.

“I don’t think today’s announcement changes anything dramatic” in the ongoing discussions between HBO Max and Roku to secure a distribution deal, said Andy Forssell, senior technical manager at HBO Max, in an interview on Thursday. “We both already had very strong imperatives to find a way to work together. So we have to go and we will get there.

WarnerMedia’s decision on Thursday marks the latest in a series of titanic changes in the way the films come to you under the extraordinary circumstances of the Coronavirus pandemic. Studios and cinemas have experimented with new release strategies that would have been inconceivable a year ago, especially for the more expensive films, like Wonder Woman, Dune and The Matrix. But Warner Bros. to release an entire year of its online movie roster in this “day and date” model, when the movies debut online and in theaters at the same time, is the most seismic change to date.

Warner Bros. calls the approach a “hybrid model” and says the strategy is a response to the pandemic, particularly in the United States. All movies will be available in 4K Ultra HD and HDR on HBO Max. Once the movies leave Max, they will follow the regular route from theaters to home viewing, like online rental and purchase, DVDs and Blu-rays, and eventually TV and streaming again.

Thursday also, HBO Max confirmed to have eliminated its standard week-long free trial. This means that if you want to stream Wonder Woman or any of those other movies, you either need to pay $ 15 for at least a month of service or find out if your regular HBO subscription includes a free upgrade to a Max account. . Bargain hunters may sniff out other deals that offer HBO Max free for a short time as a promotion with another purchase.

Other big Warner Bros. movies slated for release next year include expected box office heavyweights like Godzilla vs. Kong, In the Heights by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, and The suicide squad, The latest version of James Gunn on this DC Comics team. Retro rebirths like Mortal Kombat and Space Jam: A New Legacy are also on the slate.

Le pipeline comprend également The Little Things, Judas and the Black Messiah, Tom & Jerry, Ceux qui me souhaitent la mort, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, Reminiscence, Malignant, The Many Saints of Newark, King Richard and Cry Macho.

2021 only?

Ann Sarnoff, president and CEO of WarnerMedia Studios (where Warner Bros. resides), called it a one-year plan only.

“We are living in an unprecedented era, which calls for creative solutions,” Sarnoff said in a statement. “Nobody wants movies to come back to the big screen more than us. We know new content is the cornerstone of theatrical exposure, but we have to balance that with the fact that most theaters in the US will likely be operating at reduced capacity throughout 2021. ”

But executives said it was impossible to speculate on 2022 or later, casting some uncertainty as to whether Warner Bros. would recommit to the traditional way of debuting in theaters only after next year.

“Nobody knows what’s going to happen in 2022 or 2023,” said Forssell, executive vice president and general manager of direct-to-consumer products at WarnerMedia. Jason Kilar, CEO of the entire WarnerMedia unit, reiterated this attitude in interviews with several outlets on Thursday, saying the company is focusing on “the here and now” and has not “spent a brain cell on what the world looks like. 2022. ”

Sarnoff noted that this “hybrid model” is a way to support cinemas, moviegoers, and talent. Theaters will still receive a steady pipeline of movies, while also giving out to moviegoers who may not have access to theaters. or are not comfortable going back to the cinema, the chance to watch the movies too.

But shares in movie chains plunged on Thursday after the news broke. In trading on Friday, AMC shares were down 15% and Cinemark shares were down 20% from their opening prices Thursday morning before the news broke.

AMC said on Friday it would fight. “Obviously, Warner Media intends to sacrifice a considerable portion of the profitability of its movie studios division, and that of its production partners and filmmakers, to subsidize its startup HBO Max,” said Adam Aron, AMC CEO in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter. “As far as AMC is concerned, we will do everything in our power to ensure that Warner does not do it at our expense. We will aggressively pursue economic conditions that preserve our business.

But Kilar said in a statement Thursday that the company’s content “is extremely valuable, unless it’s on a shelf and not seen by anyone.”

“After considering all of the available options and the projected state of the film’s release throughout 2021, we came to the conclusion that this is the best way for WarnerMedia’s film business to navigate the next 12 months. months, ”he said. “Most importantly, we plan to bring consumers 17 remarkable films throughout the year, giving them the choice and the power to decide how they want to enjoy these films. ”

Unthinkable a year ago

The coronavirus pandemic has shut down theaters around the world and forced studios to delay big-budget movies for months and years, with no certainty in sight for when theaters can reopen in full or when audiences will feel comfortable sitting in closed, windowless rooms. For hours. Now Hollywood has made unprecedented changes to the way it publishes movies, standards that have been sacrosanct for decades. While different studios take different approaches, all of them make major departures from the rigid rules that typically only keep new movies in theaters for 75 days or more.

Set to be released on HBO Max on December 25, Wonder Woman 1984 is the biggest pandemic film to ever be released direct to stream, through any studio.

But before that, Universal released its sequel to DreamWorks Animation, Trolls World Tour, for rental online in April, and Disney released its live-action remake of Mulan on Disney Plus in September. One key difference is that these two films came at an additional cost to watch them online. They were available as a model known as premium video on demand, a special advance online version that requires customers to pay a premium price to unlock the title for home viewing.

Universal, which also makes films in the Fast & Furious and Jurassic World franchises, has been agreements with major cinema chains that allow the company to significantly reduce the length of time its films remain exclusively in theaters. Universal films from his eponymous studio, DreamWorks Animation and Focus Features, will be available for rental online 17 days after their big screen premiere, as part of new offerings.

Similar to Warner Bros. Disney’s latest hybrid strategy has shifted a handful of its theatrical films to Disney Plus originals, most notably Hamilton in July and its upcoming Pixar Soul movie, which is also set to release on December 25. But none of these films come close. budget of $ 200 million for Wonder Woman 1984, and no studio has made such a big commitment as releasing an entire year of movies online on the same day as theaters at no additional cost.

Until recently, studios for the most part postponed their biggest and most expensive franchise films to next year or beyond, hoping for a future where theaters reopen widely and audiences will move on. will feel comfortable going to theaters en masse. Like many of us, the studios seem to accept that normal life isn’t coming back anytime soon.

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