Over the weekend, Warner Bros. announced it will be moving its entire 2021 theatrical slate to Day-and-Date release on HBO Max. That is, when these 17 movies – whose production costs total over one billion dollars – hit theaters, they’ll also be available for streaming on HBO Max that very same day. When the news broke, most people shrugged it off and didn’t give it a second thought. However, the ones who were paying attention knew it was a turning point.
While everyone was watching Disney to make the first move, Warner Bros snuck in through the ventilation system and flicked the switch. Everyone was expecting Disney to strike first in announcing their theatrical releases with day-and-date, given their vast catalog and subsidiaries. But it’s interesting why Warner Bros made the first move. Here’s why:
Warner Bros. knew it was not financially feasible to keep pushing and delaying films. They learned that early on this year with Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. After constantly delaying the film’s theatrical release, Warner Bros thought by some divine miracle that Tenet would gross 800 million dollars world-wide to break even, which is exactly why they would not release it on VOD. After rolling the film out theatrically, sector by sector, they discovered Tenet was a lost cause, and soon realized that all of their other releases would be too.
Hollywood speculated Disney would’ve beat them to the punch due to their VOD release of Mulan this year, thinking the studio was ahead of the game. But maybe Disney was too timid in axing theaters out of their equation. Maybe they still see theatrical exhibition as a viable option, which reintroduces the age-old question – what will eventually happen to theaters? Does this finally signal the end of public movie theaters? Only time will tell. One thing’s for sure though: if Disney wasn’t going to be the first one to do it, you’ll be damn sure they’ll be the last. If they’re not going to be the one’s ushering in a new era, they’ll mark the end of it. But how might Disney view theaters now? Might they see them as an opportunity to boast “Hey, our movies are more significant and mark a higher standard, and therefore need the biggest treatment/release possible?” What at first seemed like the studio ready to embrace the future, Disney now might be clinging to the theaters of the past.
Another big question to ask is, who will be the next to follow suit? Will other studios wait to see the results? In my opinion, Universal will probably be the next to follow, given their free subscription to Peacock was a success, but not the Olympic-size success it was hoping for. And while studios like Sony that don’t have a streaming exhibition outlet, they’ll have to make deals as to who will get rights to their property, which could very well start a bidding war amongst streaming services.
And while all of this is going on, theater chains and arthouse theaters are stuck hanging in the balance. What will become of them? Have we finally moved into the third act in the narrative of movie theaters? Again, in my opinion, if theaters are to stick around, it’ll be for the novelty of watching content with strangers in a dark space. Theaters will stick around for the sheer communal experience for people like me (geeks), who, if they want to have the option of seeing a movie in a dark place with strangers, they’ll have the option to do so. Question is: how long will that remain financially feasible? For many people, the announcement this past weekend was the first nail in the coffin.
However, the industry has been saying the same thing for years. When television arrived, it was the end of theaters. When VCR’s arrived, it was the end of theaters. When the internet arrived, it was the end of theaters. When Netflix arrived, it was the end of theaters. And time and time again, the industry has been proven wrong. There will only be death to theaters if we allow it.
Featured photo courtesy of Getty