Warner Bros.’s “Wonder Woman 1984,” the only big movie still scheduled to debut in theaters this year, will premiere on AT&T’s HBO Max the same day it appears in cinemas, an unusual approach that shows how much the coronavirus pandemic has upended Hollywood.
The film will premiere in U.S. theaters and HBO Max on Dec. 25, nine days after it starts appearing at cinemas in international markets, Warner Bros. said in a statement Wednesday. HBO Max subscribers will have a month to see the movie at no additional cost.
“We realize that a lot of consumers can’t go back to the movies due to the pandemic, so we also want to give them the option to see ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ via our HBO Max platform,” said Ann Sarnoff, chief executive officer of WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group.
The film’s director, Patty Jenkins, confirmed the move earlier in a tweet, saying that fans should see the movie in theaters if it’s safe to do so — otherwise, they can enjoy it at home.
Releasing a would-be blockbuster like “Wonder Woman 1984” to home and theater audiences concurrently would have been unthinkable earlier this year, and for decades before that. However, the pandemic has made it impossible for studios to generate the kind of returns at the box office they need to recover their investments in big films.
Bloomberg earlier reported that theater and studio executives were negotiating an unusual release strategy for the film, in which it move online much more quickly than normal. Theater owners, which normally wouldn’t want a new movie made available to at-home audiences while it plays in cinemas, are being more flexible than normal, because almost all major new films have been delayed until 2021.
By giving Warner Bros. their blessing to distribute the movie online, they may have stopped the studio from delaying its premiere altogether until next year. In exchange, some theater executives expected to receive a one-off payment from Warner Bros., people familiar with the matter said.
The move could be a major boon for HBO Max. New WarnerMedia chief Jason Kilar is looking to accelerate subscriber growth at the streaming platform, a six-month-old competitor to Netflix Inc. An online release of a big DC Comics superhero movie is likely to fuel signups.