It was just announced from Warner Bros. that the studio would be taking their entire slate of films within 2021 and showing them both through cinemas as well as their service HBO Max. This news has come shortly after the announcement that Wonder Woman 1984 would be doing the same thing on December 25th 2020 in the US. This is not a news article or a place to get the full details, and if you are looking for that I recommend reading the article from The Hollywood Reporter. Instead, this is a place where I am spreading out my thoughts in relation to hearing this news.
Firstly, this news is most likely not going to impact me as much as most people who are currently talking about it. As a UK citizen, I do not even have access to HBO Max. This current plan for Wonder Woman 1984 makes sense in a world of COVID-19, but has had some impact for British citizens in particular. The film still plans to open here on December 16th, but many cinemas here are still shut due to lockdown restrictions and financial situations making it unviable to open up again until 2021. Whilst we are potentially getting the film a month later on an alternative streaming site, there is a chance that many UK citizens will not get to see Wonder Woman 1984 until 2021 and have spoilers coming towards us, or just simply a rise in piracy. This is hopefully not going to be much of an issue with the 2021 slate, as by that point we should be well underway with our vaccination and cinemas will be able to re-open safely.
This is the main issue that I have with this announcement from Warner Bros., and that is their attitude towards 2021. I understood the choice to place Wonder Woman 1984 on both streaming and cinemas, because of the need to keep the DCEU going and the rising number of cases within the US right now. However, it is worrying that Warner Bros. thinks that the virus will be prevalent enough until October 2021 to delay Dune, a film that is not only begging to be seen on the big screen, but that needs box office success considering the budget and the property.
There are people saying that this single move is going to single-handedly kill the cinemas across the world, and I do think that is an exaggeration. Within a world of COVID-19 still looming, the sad reality is that cinemas were always going to take a hit. To encourage people to stay at home and watch a film safely, especially in countries like the US, is not a bad message to share. What is slightly encouraging is that Warner Bros. are still agreeing to show their films in cinemas at the same time, allowing cinemas to make a cut. If we get to a point where COVID-19 is no longer a major threat and a big blockbuster such as The Suicide Squad is showing at a cinema and at home, I would hope that a large majority of us would support the cinemas and go and see it on the biggest screen possible – the way it was intended to.
For me, the biggest takeaway in this news is not the fact that the cinemas will immediately die out. Instead, it is about the idea of the window between cinema releases and streaming. We could not help the fact that many films had to be distributed through PVOD and streamers this year, but it is incredibly hard to take away something that has already been given to us. Several films have shown that people are willing to sit down and pay to watch something at home if you give them the chance to. Happiest Season just destroyed records over at Hulu, whilst Trolls: World Tour made quite a lot of money for a PVOD release at the start of the pandemic. It may upset us cinema purists, but it was clear that streaming films and the shortening of the theatrical window was dying with the pandemic.
This news is shocking, but Warner Bros. have to make this year count and capitalise off of it and prove to all of us that they know what they are doing. There is no reversing for them if the pandemic does go away within summer and they are left keeping their stuff on HBO Max – a streaming platform that many people in the US can access for free with their networks. They need a way to make this financially stable, whilst keeping on good terms with the cinemas. This may be a harsh blow for everyone involved, and it is a major shock, but the reality is that we will not know the implications until the end of 2021.
Is it the end of cinemas? No, it is not and they will thrive after this pandemic with many people missing their popcorn and flicks. Is there a major twist to the system and a need to adapt on both the cinema and the film distributors’ side? Yes, and that needs to happen now before it is too late. We do not need the cinemas to die, we do not need piracy to rise, and we do not need the art of filmmaking to falter because of this move.