Warner Bros. HBO Max experiment to end in 2022

Wonder Woman 1984

Warner Bros. will go back to its traditional theatrical model in 2022, the studio has confirmed.

The WarnerMedia owned studio stunned the industry in December 2020 when it announced that all of its planned theatrical releases would simultaneously be launched on streaming service HBO Max during 2021. Titles including The Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman 1984 and Dune all have or will be available on HBO Max for 30 days before becoming theatrical exclusives and eventually returning to the streamer.

At the time, CEO Ann Sarnoff justified the move as saying that “We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theaters in the US will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021.”

The decision was not popular in Hollywood, with directors like Christopher Nolan and Denis Villeneuve both publicly airing their disappointment at the apparent shift away from the big screen. 

While apparently unpopular with filmmakers, the shift has put an even greater focus on HBO Max and Warner will hope that 2021 ends with a significant increase in subscribers.

It also opened the door for other studios to experiment with similar strategies. ViacomCBS has said that its movies like Mission: Impossible 7 will simultaneously launch on Paramount+ and in cinemas, while Disney this week has announced a dramatic change to its 2021 slate with titles such as Black Widow and Cruella either being offered exclusively on Disney+ or as Premiere Access additional purchases.

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