On December 3rd, Warner Brothers made the bombshell announcement that their entire 2021 movie slate would be made available on the big screen and on HBO Max at the same time in the U.S. This is a huge, game-changing announcement that could have massive ramifications for both the industry and how consumers digest their content in the future, despite Warner Bros. initially claims that this a “unique one-year plan”. Will going to the movie theatre become something of a niche thing that only cinephiles actively seek out and will moviegoing become more of a cozy, at-home experience, free from the annoyances of, well, other people?
What’s Coming to HBO Max in 2021
The year 2020 has been a cruel one to cinema, with many films being delayed time and time again while other films, including Warner Bros’ own Tenet having a smaller box office haul due to the limitations of going to the movies during a pandemic. Learning from the mistake that was Tenet’s rushed released, the studio was likely in heated conversation over the past few months, and this was the end result of that movie. WB has some great movies on the horizon, chief among them the highly-anticipated release of Dune from director Denis Villeneuve. Not only that, but we can expect the likes of Taylor Sheridan’s latest, Mortal Kombat and the yet-untitled fourth Matrix film to be released on the big screen and at home at the same time. Here’s a list of Warner’s 2021 slate:
The Little Things, Judas and the Black Messiah, 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, The Matrix 4.
Will This Be Consumer Friendly?
At first glance, there’s actually going to be a lot of wins for consumers with the new way of consuming brand new feature films. As Chris Stuckmann cited, it’s only really movie weirdos like us who actively enjoy going to the movies in order to have an experience and talk about that experience. Most people are content with staying at home, staying within their own space with their own friends while being free to look at their phone, talk and whatever would be frowned upon at the cinema.
There’s also the issue of price. The average cost of a movie ticket in rural United States is around $10 whereas in L.A. it can be as high as $35. For comparison, a subscription to HBO Max is $15 a month with a free seven-day trial. Depending on where you live and/or how often you go to the movies, the cost of a subscription may be extremely enticing or it may be vastly more expensive than physically driving over to the theatre. Each person’s own unique situation and geographical location will factor into this, so there’s no clear cut answer.
The Death of Movie Theatres?
That’s the question on the tip of everyone’s tongue right now. Is this going to usher in the death of movie theatres? The answer is that it’s quite simply too early to say. Upon learning that the likes of Dune and The Matrix 4 would be available at home day one from home, I instantly thought, that’s going to be pretty awesome for those who have access to HBO Max or want access to it. But if the world is back to relative normal by the time those movies are scheduled to be released on the big screen, I’d still want to watch them. As it turns out though, I can’t, as I’m not in the States, but if I was or if the option was available to me (I have access to HBO Max original content here) and things were safe, I would want to watch certain movies on the big screen. Dune, Matrix, heck even Godzilla vs Kong beg to be viewed on the largest screen possible. Was Godzilla: King of the Monsters a good movie? No, not really. But it was incredibly fun and part of that was due to the scope that a big screen offers, as well as the superior speaker quality. On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t rush out to see In the Heights, the John M. Chu musical based off of Lin Manuel Miranda’s 2007 Broadway, but if I’m subscribed and it’s available, I would probably watch it much sooner than the traditional release cycle.
On the same side, if there’s a movie I’m kind of hesitant on or wouldn’t want to rush to the cinemas to partake in, having the option to watch it from home while being a subscriber makes a lot of sense. It’s the appeal for many to sign up to HBO Max in order to watch Wonder Woman 1984 this Christmas. The world is a scary place right now, with COVID-19 cases rising rapidly across the world, and American audiences will likely want to stay in and watch a heroic movie to cap off the year from the comfort of their own home.
The outcome I could see happening is that big, event movies that cater to wide audiences will still likely attract lots of people to the big screen because at the end of the day, going to the movies is an experience and those films with tons of hype create a sort of energy that makes moviegoing something of an experience. That being said, indie films, international features and auteur features may not grab the average moviegoers’ attention if it’s also available to watch at home. Which may suit cinephiles just fine. We want to go to the movies to watch the movie, not to talk with our friends and scroll on our phones. So while going to the movies may become something of a niche like going to the theatre or the opera even, the audience could very well be filled with people who genuinely want to be there. In the end, this could be beneficial to everyone, but for the time being, it’s only beneficial to those living in the US of A. While WB says that this is a temporary one year deal, I think we can safely assume that the year 2021 is very much a testing ground for if this is a feasible plan, and if successful, other markets around the world may see this offered before long.