- Warner Bros. is releasing all 17 of its 2021 movies simultaneously on HBO Max and in theatres.
- “I don’t think it makes sense for WarnerMedia,” IMAX CEO Richard Gelfond told Insider of his reaction to the December 3 news.
- He added that he believes the movies won’t perform as well at the box office when released at the same time.
- Gelfond told Insider he and others knew the studio was considering the same date release option, an idea he responded to negatively.
- He was under the impression WB nixed the idea, opting to only release “WW84” simultaneously in theatres and HBO Max.
- Gelfond was surprised to learn the studio reversed course by sending its 2021 movies to streaming.
- He expects to see the box office come around by next summer, which could play a factor in WB potentially reversing course.
- “When other films open like ‘Black Widow’ in May and if they do really big box offices, I think that could be one of many factors that would cause Warner to reconsider,” Gelfond said.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Warner Bros. announced earlier this month that it will release its entire slate of 2021 movies simultaneously in theatres and on HBO Max.
Though WB has been adamant this decision was made as a one-year move due to the pandemic, the news sent shockwaves through Hollywood. Is this really temporary? What does this mean for creators and theatres? And what about the box office?
“I just don’t think it makes a lot of sense. I don’t think it makes sense for WarnerMedia,” IMAX CEO Richard Gelfond told Insider when asked his thoughts on WB’s decision to send 17 film titles straight to its streaming service for a one-month run the same day they’re released in theatres.
“I don’t think they’re going to maximise the profit on the movie,” Gelfond continued. “I don’t think it makes sense for exhibition because the movies aren’t going to perform as well on day and date releases. It doesn’t make sense for IMAX because we’re in the blockbuster business, and, by way of reference, ‘Wonder Woman ’ was filmed in part with IMAX cameras. I thought it was important that that be seen by audiences in IMAX.”
Gelfond knew Warner Bros. was considering sending more movies to HBO Max apart from ‘Wonder Woman 1984,’ but he was surprised when they actually moved forward with the decision.
WB’s December 3 announcement to move its 2021 slate came about two weeks after the studio decided to send its highly-anticipated “Wonder Woman” sequel to HBO Max in addition to theatres on December 25.
Gelfond told Insider he knew WB was considering sending its 2021 releases to streaming in addition to theatres before the “Wonder Woman: 1984” announcement in late November, but he didn’t think they would go through with it.
“I had been involved in discussions with Warner Bros. for a few months before that announcement and when they had first suggested it to me, I reacted in a very strong negative way because partly… I believe that the box office is going to open up around April,” Gelfond said. “And I think it’s going to be very strong by the summer.”
Gelfond pointed to the success of China and Japan’s box offices returning to normal, even with capacity restrictions, in the past few months, saying there’s a pent-up demand for the theatrical experience.
“I understood it during the pandemic, but I didn’t understand it in a year,” Gelfond added, saying that after discussions with him and others he didn’t name that WB agreed to only move forward with sending “WW84” to streaming.
“I thought that was a measured, appropriate response and I told them that I would support it and I understood it,” Gelfond said. “Then, even before ‘Wonder Woman’ opening, they pivoted. They went back to this one year approach without, as far as I could tell, consulting anyone.”
Many were caught off guard by the announcement, including Gelfond.
In response, AMC Theatres CEO Adam Aron and the Directors Guild of America criticised WB’s decision. Long-time WB collaborator Christopher Nolan, whose 2020 film “Tenet” was released in theatres, told Entertainment Tonight the move was a “bait and switch” where talented stars were being used a “a loss-leader for the streaming service.“
“Dune” director Denis Villeneuve, whose WB film is among the titles going to HBO Max next year, wrote an impassioned essay in Variety describing his disappointment with WB, his fears of piracy, and how the move to streaming may have killed hope for a franchise.
Although IMAX is winning in the short-term,
Gelfond said he hopes Warner Bros. “reassess” its strategy for 2021.
It’s not just filmmakers and exhibitors who are losing out. While US audiences will gain the benefit of watching the film from the comfort and safety of their homes, they will miss out on one key theatre experience.
Though “WW84” will stream in 4K and will support Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision on HBO Max, US fans likely won’t see scenes that were filmed in IMAX in the way they were intended to be seen on the big screen when watching from home. In other words, don’t expect to see scenes filmed in IMAX in the correct IMAX ratio on your TV.
Gelfond told Insider they have the technical capability of doing that, but they haven’t set that up with HBO Max. He would be surprised if fans were able to see those scenes in the correct way.
One of the few winners with the “WW84” dual release, in the short-term, is IMAX. The company operates in 82 countries, many of which will play “Wonder Woman: 1984” in theatres where HBO Max isn’t available. Currently, HBO Max is available only in the US and some US territories. It won’t roll out in Europe and Latin American countries until the second half of 2021.
“Even though there was a slight benefit for us, long-term I don’t think that’s how filmmakers and talent want to make movies,” Gelfond said of WB’s theatrical rollout. “And I don’t think that’s how audiences want to see them. I think there’s still time for Warner to reassess and I hope they do.”
Warner Bros. could reverse course i
f the box office takes off from rival studios and if we reach herd immunity, but the science says we may not get there until the end of 2021.
All eyes were on Disney last week to see if the Mouse would break the theatrical window after WB’s surprise decision.
But during its recent 2020 investor’s day, Disney didn’t send its 2021 films straight to its streaming service, Disney Plus. Instead, the company showed off a robust slate of original movies and TV shows for the streamer in addition to films that will head to theatres.
The company’s next Marvel movie, “Black Widow,” was on people’s minds as many waited to see if the studio would send it to Disney Plus the same day as its May 7, 2021 theatrical release for a premium price. It didn’t happen. Currently, “Black Widow” is only scheduled for a theatrical release.
Instead, Disney shifted one of its theatrical releases to same day streaming. Its next animated feature, “Raya and the Last Dragon,” will be available for Disney Plus subscribers to unlock on March 5 â€” the same day it’s released in theatres â€” at a yet-to-be-announced premium price.
After several months of delays, Disney previously made its live-action “Mulan” available to Disney Plus subscribers in September in a similar fashion. Those who paid a $US29.99 premium could access the movie two months ahead of a December 4 release to all Disney Plus subscribers at no added cost.
Disney’s decision to still lead 2021’s summer with “Black Widow” shows a confidence that the box office could return to normal at some point next spring or summer.
Gelfond said a theatrical hit could make WB reconsider its 2021 decision.
“When other films open like ‘Black Widow’ in May and if they do really big box offices, I think that could be one of many factors that would cause Warner to reconsider because [they’d be] leaving that much money on the table,” he said.
“They’re smart business people,” Gelfond added. “I would think they would think twice about it.”
But in order for movies to make big numbers again, theatres would need to reopen at more than 25% capacity and people would need to feel safe to return to theatres, something, Gelfond believes will heavily depend on vaccine herd immunity.
And that could take a while.
As of Friday, the first coronavirus vaccine was approved for emergency use in the US. While the two-dose vaccine, developed by Pfizer and German biotech BioNTech, should begin rolling out to states in days â€” with the country aiming to vaccinate 100 million people by March â€” it won’t be readily available to everyone right away.
Healthcare workers, frontline workers, people over 65, and people with preexisting conditions will have first priority to get the vaccine. By late May, it’s possible everyone in the US could have access to a vaccine, but it could still take several months into the fall and winter 2021 to develop herd immunity.
Dr. Anthony Fauci told the New York Times in November that if we can get 75%-80% of the US population vaccinated over the second quarter of 2021 that we may have enough herd immunity where we can “approach very much some degree of normality that is close to where we were before” by next year’s end.
If we’re not reaching a “degree of normality” until the end of 2021, as Fauci said, WB’s call to release its films simultaneously in the US on HBO Max and theatres through the end of next year may not seem illogical after all.
A Warner Bros. representative did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment.