Thanks, Warner Bros
You might have heard Warner Brothers has decided to shove their late 2020, and 2021 releases to HBO Max instead of a proper theatrical release. This is likely due in part to the infamous Tenet flop in theaters, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While this might not seem like a huge decision, as most things seem to be heading towards streaming, it has serious ramifications where the movie theater industry is concerned. Granted, these films are also seeing a concurrent theatrical release alongside the streaming release on HBO Max. However, this is only the first step in other companies following suit - or worse, moving away from theatrical releases entirely. We can call Warner Brothers the first domino in all of Hollywood to fall forward on decisions of the like.
Diminishing the Blockbuster Effect
Here's the thing: Warner Bros has made the ultimate decision to put films like Wonder Woman 1984, Dune, The Matrix 4, The Suicide Squad, Godzilla vs Kong, The Space Jam sequel, In The Heights, and more onto HBO Max simultaneously with a theatrical release, where they are able to show films during this unprecedented time. These films, especially Wonder Woman 1984, are all huge blockbusters that could have raked in a ton of dough at the box office during a normal time. Wonder Woman 1984, potentially a billion dollar box office film, is now going to find a home on HBO Max, where likely most people are going to see it. With the first Wonder Woman film making over $800 million worldwide, it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility to say that the sequel could have raked in a billion dollars, in precedented times, of course. Considering a recent survey showing that only 18% of people would feel comfortable seeing a movie in theaters within the next six months, and 71% preferring to stay home and would feel uncomfortable in a theater, it's plain to see that movie theaters are likely to die in the coming months (Variety). They simply cannot last another six months without a stream of revenue. Maybe it's Warner Bros seeing the writing on the wall, maybe this is where we're headed - but the fact of the matter is: movie theaters are dying and this could be the killing blow.
The Rise of Streaming Platforms
It's abundantly clear that every company either has or is developing their own streaming service, because that is ultimately where the industry is headed now. You are behind the curve if you don't have a digital home for your content readily available to your consumers via the internet. With the creation of Peacock (NBC), CBS All Access, YouTube TV, Disney+, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime Video, and the many others that now have their own platform and original content, it's easy to see that the industry is not only headed this way, but we're already there. Movie theaters could become a thing of the past, if they haven't already. The only thing I don't know is if this was the product of the coronavirus pandemic, or if that just helped it along. One thing is for certain: viewers tend to prefer streaming now over the movie theater experience. The question I have to ask is: are we okay with this? Is this how cinemas die? With thunderous applause?
One notable example, although I am extremely biased, is the Dune adaptation (remake) that was set for release in 2020, but was moved to 2021 due to the COVID pandemic. Denis Villeneuve's reimagination of Frank Herbert's novel series has a budget of $165 million and was sure to be a huge Sci-Fi event for fans of the source material, the genre, and the director. It seems strange to me that Warner Bros is willing to punt on this release, as it could cause a massive loss for them where box office returns are concerned. It's rumored that Legendary Entertainment intends to sue Warner Bros over the decision to place it on their streaming platform resulting from their partnership with HBO Max. Legendary Entertainment would likely be in the red as a result of this decision and has every intention of fighting this, so as to survive these trying times. In addition, Legendary had intended to make franchises of their properties that are being shoved to streaming, which would reasonably hurt their chances of doing so. Of course, all of these decisions and fights are for monetary reasons. This is a business, after all. But, it does affect everyone - and not just the creators and distributors of the films, but also, the consumers. The outcomes of these cases will be fascinating and will mean volumes to the theater-going experience. The eyes of the film world will be upon them.
What Does This Mean For The Future?
The future remains uncertain, as far as the coronavirus pandemic and how that affects the movie theater experience are concerned. One thing is certain: the primary aspect of all this that does threaten the movie theater experience is how we choose to consume these films as well as how these companies choose to feed them to us. And that's how it's done. They will give the people what they want, and if what we say we want is streaming, that's how they will give it to us. Nothing, in my eyes, will replace the experience of viewing films on the big screen. But, as it turns out, I do not represent general audiences. The voices of the few will never outweigh the preferences of the many. Nevertheless, I will always strive to let my voice be heard.
And that's saying: for the love of all things sacred, please save movie theaters.