It was probably inevitable, but what is largely regarded as the last big 2020 movie to hold its ground is now moving off a purely theatrical release. Wonder Woman 1984, which had moved several times over the last year and was most recently scheduled for a Christmas Day 2020 debut (on the few screens still open to the public during the COVID pandemic) will now have a simultaneous release on HBO Max.
The move to any type of streaming service had largely been refuted by all concerned, the understanding being that the film was considered such a tentpole release that it would be worth waiting until whenever cinema-screens were made available again. However unprecedented the simultaneous release strategy for such a title may be, it’s become clear that almost all the predicted dates for that return to the old status-quo have been overtly optimistic and even with a vaccine on the horizon, there’s no clear indication when ‘normal service’ will be resumed. Therefore the decision, reluctant though it might be, may be the smartest for all concerned: those who have access to a cinema-screen will enjoy it as it was seen to be shown, but far more platform subscribers will be able to see it in the comfort of their own home over the seasonal holidays, a huge time for domestic viewing.
Unlike Mulan, which was the first notable film to switch to a VOD (video-on-demand) streaming debut – and which charged an extra premium fee to its existing subscribers for access to the title – HBO Max will not be charging any extra to its customers to watch Wonder Woman 1984. This could be a genuine game-changer – with huge ramifications beyond the customer base and may cause ripples between studios/distributors and cinema chains’ exclusivity windows and piracy issues). At the very least its success or failure is likely to set the direction for distribution of major films going forward.
In a statement, WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar justified the decision
Today we announced that Wonder Woman 1984, the eagerly anticipated tentpole film by Patty Jenkins — with Gal Gadot and Chris Pine reprising their roles as Diana Prince and Steve Trevor — is going to be released in theaters on December 25th. In the United States, we will also be making this remarkable movie available on HBO Max at no extra cost the same day that Wonder Woman 1984 premieres in theaters, for the first month of the film’s release.
For a movie of this scale, this is unprecedented. Given that, we wanted to share some context.
There are many things that factor into a decision like this:
• The pandemic.
• Our belief in the theatrical experience and, to that end, the importance of exhibitors.
• Our mission to be strong and supportive partners to Patty, Gal, producer Chuck Rovner and the entire Wonder Woman 1984 team.
• And finally, the fans, which is where important decisions like this should always start and should always end.
We are, of course, in an extraordinary moment. This entails a patchwork of regulations, geographic considerations and, most importantly, fan preferences. With that in mind, we see an opportunity to do something firmly focused on the fans: give them the power to choose between going to their local cinema or opening on HBO Max. Super-fans will likely choose both. This incredible movie will be available both ways in the U.S. on the exact same day. If you are fortunate to live in a place where theaters are open, we believe we are offering a great option given the Cinema Safe protocols our partners have put in place. With this, exhibitors are offering a movie-going experience with social distancing, masks, cleaning and ventilation protocols. On the other hand, if you and your family prefer to stay in and make your own popcorn this holiday, we want to share the experience of Wonder Woman 1984 with you the exact same day on HBO Max. It’s your decision to make.
We are committed to the theatrical experience and we believe giving exhibitors a movie of this nature is important right now. We believe in theaters because hundreds of millions of fans around the world value going to the movies. And for as long as fans seek out the theatrical experience, we will be there to serve them with great movies in partnership with exhibitors. Collectively, the fans get to decide these things, as they should.
Getting back to Wonder Woman 1984, we believe this decision will bring several benefits. The first and most important benefit is to the fans in the form of unprecedented choice from day one. The second benefit is to the exhibitors, providing an eagerly anticipated movie at a much-needed time while they take precautions in their operations. Finally, we believe that our creative partners and ourselves will benefit from this decision, in the form of fan response both theatrically and via HBO Max in the U.S.
I find it fascinating that we will be measuring the performance of this movie in an entirely new way. To use a line from The Wizard of Oz, we’re not in Kansas anymore. While we will pay attention to theatrical revenues, our expectations are clearly adjusted due to COVID-19. In parallel, we will be paying close attention to the numbers of families and fans diving into HBO Max, as we certainly anticipate that a portion of fans will choose to enjoy Wonder Woman 1984 that way on opening day and beyond. To provide a comparable, a little over four million fans in the U.S. enjoyed the first Wonder Woman movie on its opening day in 2017. Is it possible for that to happen again this Christmas with Wonder Woman 1984 between theaters and HBO Max? We are so excited to find out, doing everything in our power to provide the power of choice to fans.
Many of us could use an uplifting story this holiday season. We think we have that and more in WW84. We believe audiences are going to love every minute of this great movie this holiday season and we are looking forward to sharing it in this unprecedented way.
So, Disney+…. shall we talk about Black Widow now?