It was reported earlier this week that Wonder Woman 1984 could hit HBO Max as early as January. Turns out it will be even earlier than that. Warner Bros. has gone ahead and bit the bullet, and while the studio will still release Patty Jenkins‘ superhero blockbuster sequel in cinemas on Christmas Day, it will also be available on HBO Max – in the U.S. – the same day.
This is an unprecedented move for a film this size, obviously necessitated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Warner Bros. needs to make some money from the film and can’t just have it sit on the shelf for years.
So they’ve gone ahead with this plan, the hope being that fans outside the U.S. where COVID-19 hasn’t impacted them quite as harshly will still be happy to go and see a major release in cinemas, while American fans will flock to HBO Max. That won’t make the studio anywhere near the money they would have made from the film in a normal year, but it’s something.
The film will be available to HBO Max subscribers at new extra cost, so this isn’t like Disney+’s absurd “premium access” stunt they pulled with Mulan, where you had to had a Disney+ account and pay and extra $30.
The news first broke via an unlisted trailer on WB’s YouTube channel that was briefly public, confirming the new release at the end. The studio then confirmed the release strategy, and Jenkins shared the news via Twitter:
— Patty Jenkins (@PattyJenks) November 18, 2020
This is obviously not how the studio would prefer to release the film, and who knows if this signals a major change in the industry or not. For that to happen, HBO Max would have to be almost literally flooded with so many subscribers that the studio would essentially make the same amount of money they would have with a traditional theatrical release.
That seems pretty unlikely, although who knows what might happen around Christmas. That would certainly turn some heads within every studio in Hollywood, and would probably make the heads of cinema chains worried. Hopefully years from now we don’t look back on this release as the beginning of the end of the theatrical release, but who knows.
These are unprecedented times forcing unique release strategies, and other studios with big blockbusters in the pipeline will have to follow suit. What’s more likely to come from this is perhaps studios no longer putting all their eggs in blockbuster baskets, since those films rely on massive opening weekend numbers to make their money.
But if no one’s willing – or able – to flock to the cinema in the thousands, studios will have to produce films that don’t rely on those kind of massive early numbers. That would likely lead to a sort of revival of the kind of mid-budget good word-of-mouth films that owned the 80s and 90s.
Those films could play for weeks, developing a good reputation and accumulating money over time. This is what happened with Knives Out recently, and it could a strategy studios focus on from now on.
We’ll wait and see how Wonder Woman 1984 performs, both on HBO Max and in cinemas around the world. With this and Pixar’s Soul – which is also releasing on Christmas Day on Disney+ – film fans will be able to end an extremely tough year with at least a little joy from the comfort of their own homes.