The streaming landscape completely changed when WarnerMedia made the decision to release the entire Warner Bros. slate of theatrical films for 2021 on HBO Max on the same day they would be in theaters. It sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry and some even thought it might have signaled a brand new future for the distribution of movies. With other companies starting to take a similar route – look at Disney+’s Premier Access plan for a similar comparison – many believed that this model might become the norm for the studio. However, it looks like a deal has been reached with one of the major theatrical exhibition chains in the world and the streaming revolution is being canceled. And it actually sounds like a really bad deal.
Deadline reports that Regal Cinemas and their parent company Cineworld plans to reopen a limited number of their U.S. theaters in time for the release of Godzilla vs. Kong on April 2. The 2021 films planned for simultaneous streaming release will still be available, but the 2022 slate of Warner Bros. films will exclusively screen in Regal theaters and will have forty-five days of theatrical exclusivity before being made available on HBO Max. It’s a move that leans one step closer to studios owning specific movie theater chains and being able to control the screenings and monetary intake by owning the theaters.
It’s a baffling move after WarnerMedia truly revolutionized the entire business model with the simultaneous streaming release strategy. And as far as current box office numbers are concerned, the decision does not seem to have made an enormous dent in Warner Bros.’ bottom line. They have had some of the most profitable theatrical movies released in the pandemic era. Both Wonder Woman 1984 and Tom & Jerry did shockingly well at the box office even though both films were available for HBO Max streaming subscribers. And Godzilla vs. Kong is looking to be the absolute largest pandemic theatrical release in over a year. The tracking on that movie is incredibly positive and is likely to be the first major success story of theatrical distribution in the COVID era.
And all of that is going on while these films are available for streaming on HBO Max on the exact same day they premiere in theaters. With Warner Bros. making this exclusive deal with Regal, it almost seems like a regressive move. They will be distributing their movies in far fewer theaters in 2022 and there is no guarantee that their films will be able to be as profitable now that they will be limited to the number of screens they can play on. It also could be a detriment to HBO Max as some subscribers might end up canceling their subscriptions since the day-and-date availability of the theatrical movies was a big selling point for the service.
We will have to see just what the full ramifications of this decision will be. Streaming supporters are definitely taking a big loss with this news, and it remains to be seen just how much this could affect the success of the Warner Bros. movies set for 2022.