It's an unprecedented movie move. Warner Bros. has just announced it will drop its entire 2021 film slate directly to HBO Max, the same day as their theatrical release.
The official announcement came via a YouTube promo, which revealed that movies like Dune, The Matrix 4, King Richard and In the Heights would be available to stream at home for one month. This follows the news that the highly anticipated Wonder Woman 1984 would head to HBO Max on Dec. 25 after its release date was pushed multiple times due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The spread of COVID-19 has shuttered most movie theaters around the world. Rather than open on a limited number of screens, most films have pushed their release dates back, with some movies bypassing a formal theatrical release and going directly to streaming services and VOD. This included movies like Trolls: World Tour, Antebellum, The Witches and Mulan. However, it was initially unclear whether major releases, such as Wonder Woman 1984, would try to hold out until people can safely congregate in theaters again.
While Warner Bros.' decision may make some people question the future of the theatrical experience, don't assume the days of eating popcorn out of a bucket are over just yet.
"We're living in unprecedented times which call for creative solutions, including this new initiative for the Warner Bros. Pictures Group," WarnerMedia chair and CEO Ann Sarnoff said in a statement. "No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do. We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theaters in the U.S. will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021."
Fans, however, will still have to wait quite a while to see some of the biggest pictures on the Warner Bros. slate. Lin-Manuel Miranda's film adaptation of the Broadway musical In the Heights arrives on HBO Max and in theaters June 1, 2021. Dune, starring Timothee Chalamet, will drop Oct. 1, 2021. The Matrix 4 won't arrive until Dec. 22.
Whether next year will see most of us packed into theaters, or cuddled up on the couch watching these movies, remains to be seen. Check out the promo above.