Warner Bros. turned a lot of heads when they announced their plans to release their entire 2021 slate in movie theaters and on their streaming service HBO Max simultaneously. Initially, these plans were strictly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the company has seen movies succeed both on the streaming service and at the box office. Godzilla vs. Kong was a massive success on HBO Max - while also crushing the box office globally. The mid-budget Mortal Kombat also performed ahead of expectations in theaters while also grabbing a lot of attention from household audiences. Although the sample is small, this is plenty of evidence that both the box office and streaming can succeed at the same time, and it appears that Warner Bros. executives are planning on capitalizing on that.
In a statement to the LA Times, Carolyn Blackwood, one of the chief operating officers of Warner Bros. Pictures Group, said, "I'm both happy and relieved, because it has ultimately played out almost exactly as we hoped it would. We've got filmmakers and talent who are now happy, we've got exhibitors that are happy, we've got audiences that are happy, and our partners at HBO Max are thrilled."
Currently, the company has about 20 films planned for release in the coming years. It is said that about half are planned to release theatrically, while the other half is expected to be released exclusively on HBO Max. Notably, their DC slate will reflect that plan as they have five DC films planned for 2022 (Robert Pattinson's The Batman, Dwayne Johnson's Black Adam, Ezra Miller's The Flash, Jason Momoa's Aquaman 2, and the animated film DC Super Pets) - all of which will release in theaters.
Alternatively, the company has also announced that two of their DC projects - the Batgirl and Blue Beetle films - will be HBO Max exclusives. This is certainly an interesting idea especially considering that superhero movies are usually box office hits.
However, Warner Bros. Pictures Group Chairman Toby Emmerich insists that the idea to release films exclusively on the streaming service is indeed a wise plan. He said, "When streamers were starting ... the common wisdom was, 'series drive subscription; movies reduce churn. Movies weren't really the drivers of getting people to sign on. And I think now, the perception with film on these streaming services is that they're punching above their weight in sign-ups." So, Warner Bros. plans to commit to HBO Max as well as theaters may be a viable strategy, and only more time will tell if it works out for them.
Of course, there is a precedent for this kind of success. Netflix has steadily grown in membership for years - and original movies are one of their specialties. Although original series often get plenty of views, Netflix has been churning out at least one movie a week for a while now, and it seems to be working. Warner Bros. is planning a more aggressive approach by releasing some of their films only in theaters, some only on HBO Max, and others both at the same time with the Discovery merger pending.
2021 plans still have plenty of Warner Bros. blockbuster films (like The Suicide Squad) being released both in theaters and on HBO Max. There is no telling if the company will continue to use a version of this plan in the coming years, but it appears that Warner Bros. is up for anything. They certainly have the blockbuster firepower to try it. This news arrives courtesy of The Los Angeles Times.