There was something of an intake of breath when Warner Bros. announced that it was releasing Wonder Woman 1984 to US cinemas (the few that are open) and HBO Max, its premiere streaming service, (for a month) simultaneously on 25th December. (In the UK the film will hit cinemas a week earlier). This had never happened before and there were concerns from the multiplex chains that this might well affect their further profit margins in a year that’s suddenly driven many of the successful chains to near bankruptcy with all their screens shuttered.
With 2020 hindsight it now seems that the Wonder Woman 1984 decision was a notable ripple that has now been followed by a tsunami… with Warner Bros are announcing that EVERY SINGLE FILM they’re currently planning for a 2021 release will get a similar day and date treatment. That means the likes of 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 (if all production is finished) will all be available for streaming on the various days they also hit cinemas.
The news came in a video announcement that even caught many in the industry itself, off-guard…
The multiplex chains cautiously welcomed the Wonder Woman 1984 news as an emergency stop-gap and simply glad it wasn’t going to bypass cinemas entirely, but a whole studio (and others) moving its entire release schedule online will likely not get the same positive reception if it’s a long-term plan.
This is nothing less than a seismic shift for the future of cinema, particularly at a time when the COVID is at an all-time high point – but a vaccine about to be rolled out and optimists hoping that a more ‘normal’ life will begin to return in the first quarter of 2021 or by mid-2021, even if some restrictions still apply. If other studios / distributors follow suit, which they surely will, at least in the medium-term, then that fundamentally changes the nature of the cinema-going experience. Even if the streaming window is limited to a month, will audiences want to venture out to multiplexes when they can see the same film in their own home? Some big special-effect-heavy releases may demand a big-screen for maximum enjoyment but it’s likely that even these will also have reduced numbers. There’s also the fact that once the titles are out there in any kind of digital form, they are likely to be swiftly pirated, again cutting into profits. That being said, while cinemas DO remain shuttered, this may be the only way for the studios to get any money back for their product and the chains may have no choice in the immediate future at least.