Welcome to a New Era: WB Announces Game-Changing Release Plan
Remember this day. December 3rd, 2020. For today is the beginning of a new era in Hollywood. Warner Bros announced major, game-changing news: ALL of their big releases in 2021 will be available on HBO Max and in movie theaters on the same day. All of them. Every single one - from Dune to Godzilla vs Kong to The Matrix 4 to The Suicide Squad to Judas and the Black Messiah to Space Jam 2. (However, only in the US because HBO Max is currently only available in the US. International plans not yet confirmed.) This is major news - essentially meaning the era of "theatrical windows" (as they are known) is over. Let me be one of the first to say - good riddance. Theatrical windows were a hindrance, preventing innovation that is necessary in the world we now live in with wifi/streaming available worldwide. The COVID-19 pandemic just helped speed up this evolution, and this decision was made to offer all of the movies safely to everyone throughout 2021. You now get to choose how you want to watch – in a movie theater or at home (or both).
I want to make something clear right away: this does not mean movie theaters are dead. No way, not even close. It also does not mean you must now watch Dune or The Matrix 4 for your very first time at home or on your phone. Also not true. It means theaters will no longer be allowed to enforce ridiculous demands and controls over the industry, and it means they must not work even harder to improve the experience (enforce no phone rules please). It also means you can choose to see any of these movies in the theater (if they are open in your area) or at home. You can go see it in the theater first, then come home and rewatch it again, then go back again to the theater to have the full-on big screen, big sound experience. That is the glorious beauty of this paradigm shift - it now allows consumers the choice to experience movies however they want. And as a movie theater lover, who has always championed movie theaters, I will still go to theaters as much as I can. I will always prioritize the movie theater experience - especially watching a movie for the first time.
Here is the video that Warner Bros put out along with the official press release (find it in full on Medium):
Warner Bros first hinted at this change with the announcement that Patty Jenkins' DCEU sequel Wonder Woman 1984 will launch on Christmas Day at the end of this year on both HBO Max and in movie theaters. But clearly there was more to come. The press release states: "We are announcing today that, in the United States, the entire anticipated 17-film 2021 motion picture slate is going to be released throughout the coming year in theaters and on HBO Max the same day. That's a Warner Bros. motion picture just about once every three weeks. Said another way, when we release The Little Things, Judas and the Black Messiah, Tom & Jerry, Godzilla vs. Kong, Mortal Kombat, Those Who Wish Me Dead, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, In The Heights, Space Jam: A New Legacy, The Suicide Squad, Reminiscence, Malignant, Dune, The Many Saints of Newark, King Richard, Cry Macho and Matrix 4 in theaters around the world in 2021, in the United States, we will also be releasing them the same day on HBO Max, at no extra cost, for the first month of each film's release." Hot damn, WB.
It's obvious that this decision is heavily influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic (mainly the fact that it is still killing thousands of people every day and might not be gone entirely until 2022), along with Tenet's issues during its release just a few months ago. Not only is this decision important for the safety and health of everyone, meaning it takes the pressure off of people to go see movies in theaters when they're not safe. But it also allows Warner Bros to push forward with new strategies for building buzz and conversations around their movies. Instead of people waiting at home to see a movie that is out only in a few theaters (e.g. Tenet) everyone can now watch – at home or at the cinema – and participate in that discussion around the movies. This also means that it will put the pressure back on cinemas to improve their experience, once again, so that they are the premium place to watch movies rather than at home. Movie theaters should not be built on selling unhealthy food to eat in uncomfortable seats, they should be about pristine projection, full booming sound, distraction-free all-eyes-on-the-screen, sitting together & experiencing the magic of movies together.
Warner Bros has made one of the most powerful decisions in Hollywood in years, and is introducing us to a brand new era of movie-going. And that is exciting. Despite hyperbolic claims, and fear-driven narratives, this does not mean the death of movie theaters. It means they will evolve, too. In our interconnected digital world, allowing audiences the freedom to choose how they want to experience a movie is an empowering and exciting prospect. It's exactly the way things should've been ever since Napster (which changed the music industry, but not the movie industry). The belief that no one will go to theaters anymore is unfounded and unrealistic. Everyone still loves listening to music, and we still love going to concerts to see our favorite band in person. That's an incomparable experience. And so is the cinema. They will live on for exactly this reason. They must adapt, and evolve, but this will only make the experience even better. And that's what I am looking forward to - change can be good, and this is the right step forward to solving so many problems.
Obviously this news is going to be extremely divisive, and it will be argued about for years. But I think it's one of the most courageous and exciting announcements in Hollywood in a long time. I am looking forward to each and every one of these movies. And I will make an effort to see every single one of them at a theater for the first viewing. And maybe the second, and third. For now, we have to wait to see how it all shakes up and how it plays out. What do you think of this game-changing news? Will you still go to theaters or not?