Warner Bros. shocked audiences earlier this year when they announced that 17 of their upcoming films would be released on HBO Max the same day as theaters. Instead of going to the theaters, subscribers to HBO Max can watch some of 2021’s biggest releases like The Matrix 4 and In the Heights on the streaming service. But while the news was a complete surprise to audiences, it was an even bigger surprise to the filmmakers behind the movies, who weren’t told ahead of time of Warner Bros.’s plan. Now, the makers of Dune might be suing so that the highly-anticipated Denis Villeneuve film will get a more conventional release.
Legendary Entertainment, the company that financed 75% of the budgets for Dune and Godzilla vs. Kong, is fighting Warner Bros’ decision to put their blockbusters on HBO Max, even threatening legal action. Rumor is that Legendary wants Dune to have a more standard theatrical release, rather than one that includes streaming, in order to preserve the potential of a franchise, and because Dune‘s release date is currently on October 1, which would likely be long after coronavirus vaccines are available.
Dune director Denis Villeneuve even wrote an article for Variety, stating his problems with the new streaming deal. Villeneuve suggests that the choice is all about AT&T’s survival on Wall Street and that there is no love for the cinema in the decision to bring Dune to HBO Max. Villeneuve also says that audience safety is of the utmost importance, but the October 1st release date ensures that audiences could go see Dune in their local theater and still be safe. Villeneuve has often said that Dune is the best film he’s ever made, so naturally, the best possible viewing experience is how he’d want audiences to see what he thinks is his finest work.
Warner Bros. may give Dune a normal theatrical release away from the HBO Max streaming service, simply to avoid the impending lawsuit, and to make Denis Villeneuve happy. While this may be true of Dune, it seems unlikely that Warner Bros. will waver on Legendary Entertainment’s other major 2021 release, Godzilla Vs. King. That film’s May 21st release date still puts it at a period where it might be unsafe for audiences to return to theaters, so it’s possible Legendary will prioritize Dune, and allow Warner Bros. to stick to their original plan with Godzilla Vs. Kong.
Warner Bros.’ decision to move their upcoming slate to HBO Max seems more like a way to salvage what could be another uncertain year in theaters, while also trying to boost the subscriber base of their new streaming service. With many theaters still not open, Warner Bros. will certainly take a hit on upcoming films like Wonder Woman 1984, so the move to HBO Max at least allows the studio to get something out of the millions they’ll likely lose from their theatrical releases. But not letting the filmmakers know what their plans were with their releases, and not even telling the production companies, seems like a bad way to experiment with theatrical releases. It’s no wonder the production companies and filmmakers are fighting back.