With the COVID-19 pandemic crushing theatrical releases for films, Warner Bros. has decided to take no chance in 2021. We have a vaccine, but with no word yet on who is getting it when. As a result, the studio has moved some of its largest titles to day-and-date with their HBO Max service. 

We have already seen them do this with Wonder Woman: 1984, which is set to debut on Christmas Day. Now, The Matrix 4, Dune, Godzilla vs. Kong, and other titles are falling in line to do the same. 

The titles will be streaming exclusively on HBO Max for one month. After that one-month period is over, the film will depart HBO Max and continue to be available in theaters worldwide, at which time it will follow all customary distribution windows applying to the title.

That means after it leaves HBO Max, it will later still have a full digital HD and Blu-ray/DVD release before eventually returning to the streamer.

Heads of Warner Bros. released statements today about the move.

In a statement, chair and CEO of WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group Ann Sarnoff said, “We’re living in unprecedented times which call for creative solutions, including this new initiative for the Warner Bros. Pictures Group. 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. With this unique one-year plan, we can support our partners in exhibition with a steady pipeline of world-class films, while also giving moviegoers who may not have access to theaters or aren’t quite ready to go back to the movies the chance to see our amazing 2021 films. We see it as a win-win for film lovers and exhibitors, and we’re extremely grateful to our filmmaking partners for working with us on this innovative response to these circumstances.”

Notice they are billing this as a one-year plan only.

“After considering all available options and the projected state of moviegoing throughout 2021, we came to the conclusion that this was the best way for WarnerMedia’s motion picture business to navigate the next 12 months,” said Jason Kilar, CEO, WarnerMedia. “More importantly, we are planning to bring consumers 17 remarkable movies throughout the year, giving them the choice and the power to decide how they want to enjoy these films. Our content is extremely valuable, unless it’s sitting on a shelf not being seen by anyone. We believe this approach serves our fans, supports exhibitors and filmmakers, and enhances the HBO Max experience, creating value for all.”

“This hybrid exhibition model enables us to best support our films, creative partners and moviegoing in general throughout 2021,” said Toby Emmerich, Chairman, Warner Bros. Pictures Group. “We have a fantastic, wide ranging slate of titles from talented and visionary filmmakers next year, and we’re excited to be able get these movies in front of audiences around the world. And, as always, we’ll support all of our releases with innovative and robust marketing campaigns for their theatrical debuts, while highlighting this unique opportunity to see our films domestically via HBO Max as well.”

The 2021 Warner Bros. films that are expected to be released next year and that are expected to follow this model include:

  • The Little Things
  • Judas and the Black Messiah
  • Tom & Jerry
  • Godzilla vs. Kong
  • Mortal Kombat
  • Those Who Wish Me Dead
  • The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
  • In the Heights
  • Space Jam: A New Legacy
  • The Suicide Squad
  • Reminiscence
  • Malignant
  • Dune
  • The Many Saints of Newark
  • King Richard
  • Cry Macho
  • Matrix 4

All films will be available in 4K Ultra HD and HDR on HBO Max.

This marks a major shift in streaming and ups the competition. You have to wonder if this makes Disney feel the pressure to release the waiting Marvel movies onto Disney+, and if Universal seeks out distribution deals with Netflix, Apple, or Amazon. They may even put their Fast and Furious movies on Peacock, including the new one, to drum up business. 

This also is a huge blow to theaters, who were hoping a vaccine would allow them to open safely and that crowds would follow. It's hard to imagine most of them making it until 2021. These are huge titles being moved to availability at home. 

Let us know what you think in the comments.