by Julian Spivey
Major movie industry and streaming industry news broke today when Warner Bros. announced they will stream movies on HBO Max the same day they drop in theaters in 2021.
It’s news that could potentially change the future of movie watching in this country and could help spell the end of movie theaters, after COVID-19 has already dealt such a harsh blow to our nation’s major theater chains.
Warner Bros., the world’s second-largest movie studio, had previously announced in November a plan to debut the much-anticipated “Wonder Woman 1984” on HBO Max on Christmas Day, while the film was simultaneously premiering in open theaters throughout the country and would remain on the streaming service for a month. “Wonder Woman 1984” would be available for all subscribers of HBO Max at no additional charge, unlike the recent release of “Mulan” on the Disney+ streaming service.
The decision was made in part by how poorly Christopher Nolan’s high profile film “Tenet” did at the box office upon its release late this summer, with many theaters across the country being closed due to COVID-19 and many moviegoers being too afraid to venture out for fear of catching the virus.
Among the high profile Warner Bros. films that will be dropping on HBO Max in 2021, as well as debuting in theaters, are “Matrix 4,” “Dune,” “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” “The Suicide Squad,” “In The Heights” and “Judas and the Black Messiah.” Many, if not all of these, films would be expected to draw fairly big numbers upon theatrical release. All of these films will be available for one month upon their release on the service.
According to CNN Business, shares of movie theater chains like AMC and Cinemark fell 15 percent upon this morning’s news breaking.
So, how will this hinder the future of movie theaters in this country?
For years things like streaming services and the ability to view films on large television screens with surround sound getting more and more affordable have led to box office numbers falling, but giant tentpole releases – particularly if they included a superhero or were part of a long and storied franchise like “Star Wars” – would still draw record numbers of audience members. But this is because fans of such franchise and series are ravenous and don’t want to wait for months for a film to arrive on a streaming service or for rent or purchase for fear of missing out or being spoiled.
But many fear if films are being simultaneously released as Warner Bros. will be doing on HBO Max, which debuted in late May, it will kill the theater experience because why would you pay $10-plus per ticket and high concessions prices when you can just stay home with your cheaper snacks and stream it from the comfort of your own couch or bed without any distractions like chatty movie goers.
I’ll be the first to admit the additional movies we’ve seen added to streaming services has been good for me this year. I’m not going out to my local theater to see anything right now. Some movies coming to streaming has even allowed me to view movies that I almost certainly wouldn’t have gone to the cinema to see.
But I do worry as a movie lover that Warner Bros. and HBO Max striking this deal, along with the on-going pandemic potentially shuttering some of these money-bleeding theater chains for good, could spell the end of movie watching as we know it. The days of going to a theater to watch a new film may go the way of the dodo, as ridiculous as it would’ve sounded to me even at the beginning of this year.
Sure, there are always going to be people who want the theater experience, but I’m not sure it’ll be enough folks to make theaters a profitable business. Yes, I enjoy seeing a movie at the local theater, but honestly if deals like Warner Bros. have made with HBO Max become commonplace, I’d take the convenience of watching a movie for much cheaper at home. It’s kind of like how subscribing to Spotify has made me a worse music listener. I love albums, but Spotify makes it so convenient to listen to songs more so than albums. My extensive vinyl record collection is likely crying and shuttering in fear in the corner of that room in my house where all the stuff we don’t really use, but don’t want to get rid of live.
Movie theaters were dealt a bad hand this year that I don’t think any of us could’ve foreseen. And movie distribution companies looking for a way to survive and get their product out might end up killing the way we’ve always seen movies in order to survive. Or maybe deals like this will be a short term thing and we’ll be back to normal once a vaccine for COVID-19 is widely available – if those theater chains can remain alive in the meantime.