Warner Bros has announced it will screen its movies in theaters first in 2022, bringing to an end its strategy to release all of its movies on its HBO Max streaming service at the same time as they hit cinemas.
The studio will return to its pre-pandemic model of releasing films exclusively in theaters in a clear sign of optimism that consumers will ditch staying at home to watch streaming services and flock back to reopened cinemas.
The move is part of its announcement of a multi-year deal struck with Cineworld’s Regal giving it a 45-day exclusive window for new releases starting 2022 including the studio’s much-anticipated Fantastic Beasts 3 and Aquaman 2.
This comes as the US’s second-largest cinema chain reopens sites this April for what will mark the first time in six months.
Its a distinct turnaround for Warner Bros which caused an uproar when it announced in December that all 17 of its 2021 movie releases would be available to HBO subscribers at the same time as their release in theaters and at no extra cost.
Executives said at the time it was a one-year plan to push its new movies out to market while most theaters stayed shuttered due to the pandemic but the decision was widely regarded as the nail in the coffin for the already crippled cinema industry.
The same day Warner Bros made a show of renewed confidence in movie theater chains, Disney dealt another blow as it announced it will now show its hotly anticipated summer films Cruella and Marvel’s Black Widow on its own streaming service at the same time as theaters.
Warner Bros has announced it will screen its movies in theaters first in 2022, bringing to an end its strategy to release all of its movies on its HBO Max streaming service at the same time as they hit cinemas
Cineworld announced Tuesday the multi-year deal to screen Warner Bros’s 2022 movies in the US for 45 days before they are released on streaming services.
The deal also includes a 31-day window in Cineworld’s UK theaters with the option to extend it to 45 days is a movie reaches a certain box-office threshold.
Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger said the cinema chain was ‘very happy with the agreement.’
‘This agreement shows the studio’s commitment to the theatrical business and we see this agreement as an important milestone in our 100-year relationship with Warner Bros,’ he said in a statement.
The deal will only start in 2022 meaning 2021 new releases will continue to be released on HBO at the same time as they hit cinemas.
This comes as Regal cinemas reopen next month across the US with a limited number making a return to screen Warner Bros’s Godzilla vs. Kong on April 2, before more sites reopen on April 16 to coincide with the studio’s release of Mortal Kombat.
Regal shuttered all 500 of its US theaters in October, just two months after it reopened for business as it said there was a shortage of blockbuster films to attract customers after studios delayed the release of many of the year’s biggest hits.
The move is part of its announcement of a multi-year deal struck with Cineworld’s Regal giving the US’s second-largest cinema chain a 45-day exclusive window for new releases starting 2022 as it reopens sites in April for what will mark the first time in six months. Regal Cinemas on 42nd Street in NYC is temporarily closed due to COVID-19 on March 5
Regal cinemas reopen next month across the US with a limited number making a return to screen Warner Bros’s Godzilla vs. Kong on April 2, before more sites reopen on April 16
Theaters in the UK will reopen in May when the nation’s reopening plans allow for it, the company said.
‘We have long awaited this moment when we can welcome audiences back to our Regal theatres,’ Greidinger said.
‘With capacity restrictions expanding to 50 percent or more across most US states, we will be able to operate profitably in our biggest markets.’
While the news marks some much-needed hope for the nation’s cinema industry, the 45-day window is still roughly half what theaters enjoyed before the pandemic.
The gap from cinema to home has increasingly dwindled in recent years given the growing dominance of streaming services.
Theaters used to enjoy a six-month period of exclusive access around a decade ago but this had fallen to three to four months before the pandemic.
Its a distinct turnaround for Warner Bros which announced in December that all 17 of its 2021 movie releases would be available to HBO subscribers at the same time as in theaters
A scene from the film ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ which was released on HBO at the same time as in theaters
Now, Cineworld will enjoy only around six weeks before consumers can watch movies from the comfort of their home as studios appear to be in the driving seat.
And the agreement is the most generous of all those reached since the pandemic struck.
Universal Pictures last November agreed to deals with AMC and Cinemark – the first- and third-largest US chains – to shrink the theatrical window to 17 days or three weekends.
Greidinger at the time said the company didn’t see ‘any business sense’ in that model.
When the pandemic hit, the cinema industry had already been faced with years of dwindling ticket sales and was struggling to compete with the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Which is why Warner Bros’s was accused of effectively signing the death warrant for movie theaters when it announced in December its release strategy for all its 2021 movies to go straight to HBO Max at the same time as cinemas.
Movies are now available to view on HBO Max for one month starting from the release date in movie theaters across the country.
A shuttered Regal cinemas in LA in October when the pandemic had shuttered theaters across much of the country
After one month, the movies stop streaming and continue to play only in theaters.
The move followed in the footsteps of the superhero flick Wonder Woman 1984, which after many delays, was released on HBO Max and select theaters on Christmas Day but the studio shocked the industry when it said it would replicate the model for all 2021 films.
Ann Sarnoff, chair and CEO, WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, said at the time it was the ‘creative solution’ needed for ‘unprecedented times’ as movie theaters were expected to remain shuttered well into the new year.
WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar said the firm had considered all the ‘available options and the projected state of moviegoing throughout 2021’ and decided it was the best way for the studio to ‘navigate the next 12 months.’
Warner Bros and HBO Max are both owned by AT&T.
Executives said at the time it was a one-year plan but the studio was slammed by cinema chains and filmmakers.
AMC hit out Warner Bros following the announcement.
‘Clearly, Warner Media intends to sacrifice a considerable portion of the profitability of its movie studio division, and that of its production partners and filmmakers, to subsidize its HBO Max start up,’ the company said.
‘As for AMC, we will do all in our power to ensure that Warner does not do so at our expense.
Disney announced Tuesday it is releasing two of its biggest 2021 releases – Black Widow and Cruella – on its Disney Plus streaming service at the same time as in the cinema. Cruella above
The movies will be available on Disney Plus as $30 Premiere Access titles with Black Widow (above) released July 9 – two months after its May 7 original date – and Cruella on May 28.
‘We will aggressively pursue economic terms that preserve our business. We have already commenced an immediate and urgent dialogue with the leadership of Warner on this subject.’
While Christopher Nolan, the director behind Tenet blasted the plan ‘very, very, very, very messy’ and a ‘real bait-and-switch.’
Now, the same day Warner Bros committed to ending the release strategy for next year, Disney announced it was making a similar move to the studio’s 2021 plan.
Disney announced Tuesday it is releasing two of its biggest 2021 releases – Black Widow and Cruella – on its Disney Plus streaming service at the same time as in the cinema.
The movies will be available on Disney Plus as $30 Premiere Access titles with Black Widow released July 9 – two months after its May 7 original date – and Cruella on May 28.
Disney Pixar’s animated film Luca will now be released straight on Disney Plus for no additional fee on June 18 – skipping theaters entirely.
The movie theater industry was ravaged by the pandemic as lockdowns closed their doors last March.
This March, cinemas reopened in the US’s two biggest markets New York City and Los Angeles for the first time in a year and around half of the nation’s theaters are back welcoming customers.
AMC said that it will have 99 percent of its US theaters open by the end of March.