WB’s streaming gambit shakes foundation of movie theater industry

Just weeks after announcing it would simultaneously debut in theaters and on HBO Max what was to be its summer 2020 blockbuster “Wonder Woman 1984” on Christmas Day, Warner Bros. announced Thursday that its entire 2021 slate will be released in the same manner.

The coronavirus crushed the film industry’s box office this year and has more than one theater chain on the financial ropes after a year that few could have ever imagined until it happened.

The move by WB is one it couldn’t have made before March with the film industry relying on its simpatico relationship with theaters, but with theaters shutting back down again with the recent surge of the virus, WB announced this bold move. While chains like AMC can bluster with harshly worded responses, there’s really nothing else to do but sit back and watch.

All 17 films set to be be released by Warner’s including expected tent poles like “The Matrix 4,” director Denis Villeneuve’s highly anticipated “Dune” remake, DC comics adaptation “The Suicide Squad,” the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical adaption of “In the Heights,” and the “Sopranos” prequel “The Many Saints of Newark” will stream for 31 days on HBO Max while also playing in theaters.

After the 31-day period, the films are off HBO Max but may remain in theaters if the exhibitors wish to retain them. After their theatrical run, the films will be offered for rent on various online platforms like Fandango, iTunes, and Amazon. Blu-Ray and DVD release will follow. It’s unclear when the films would return to HBO Max platform.

Currently HBO Max is only available in the United States, so WB’s film slate will be opening in foreign markets per usual.

Josh Brolin and Timothée Chalamet in Dune / Warner Bros.

Such a move seemed inconceivable into the late summer when WB opened “Tenet” in theaters, but when the $200 million film struggled amidst rational Covid-19 fears, continued closure of many big markets, and limited hours in others, what seemed impossible became reality. “Variety” reported that more than 60 percent of America’s theaters have closed down again amid the latest surge of the virus after the Thanksgiving holiday.

WarnerMedia chair and CEO Ann Sarnoff called the move a creative solution to unprecedented times in a media statement. Sarnoff referred to the model as a one-year, stop-gap move because of the virus.

“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,” Sarnoff said in a quote to ‘Variety’. “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.”

However, it might be tough to put the day-and-day streaming and theatrical release genie back in the bottle a year from now if WB and perhaps other studios find success with its new model.

This move is obviously to drive more subscribers to HBO Max, WB’s streaming channel that underperformed at launch last summer when deals to carry it on Amazon Fire and Roku device could not be brokered before launch.

Michael Gandolfini as Tony Soprano in The Many Saints of Newark / Warner Bros.

Disney has already made it known that it sees its streaming channels (Hulu, Disney and ESPN Plus) as the corporation’s future, and this bid by WB makes HBO Max an even more attractive competitor, particularly if WB can cut a deal with Roku to add HBO Max to its lineup like it recently did with Amazon Fire.

Disney’s response will be interesting.It already released such intended-for-theater vehicles as “Mulan” and “Hamilton” on Disney Plus in differing formats this year. What path Disney opts to take will be pivotal for film exhibiters across the nation.

The financial markets responded harshly to this news along with the fact that AMC sold off $200 in stock in a bid to improve its liquidity. AMC’s stock slid down 17 percent on Thursday, with Cinemark plummeting 17 percent, Marcus Corp. falling 11 percent and Imax skidding 7 percent. National Cinemedia, which sells advertising that appears on movie screens, also took a nearly 7 percent hit.

As one who routinely enjoyed going to the movie theater twice or even three times a week when possible, this is threatening news to me. I enjoy watching movies in theaters because it’s the way films were made to be shown. Not only are the picture and sound quality infinitely better, in a theater, I’m able to tune out the world and concentrate on the movie in a way I just can’t do at home.

I don’t want watching a blockbuster movie to become just another night on the couch, staring at the boob tube.

However, that $15 a month hit on my bank account for HBO Max won’t be as painful, knowing that I’ll get to see movies like “Godzilla vs. Kong” at no extra cost.

New In Local Movie Theaters

  • Half Brothers(PG-13) 1 hr. 36 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Rogers Towne
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    Playing at: Malco Razorback

112 Drive In (Wednesday-Saturday)

  • The Croods: A New Age (7 p.m.)(PG) 1 hr. 35 min. (watch trailer)
  • Abominable (8:45 p.m.)(PG) 1 hr. 37 min. (watch trailer)

Classic Corner – Die Hard

Twentieth Century Fox

(R) 2 hr. 12 min.
Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Rogers Towne

He’s back in theaters to save the day just in time for Christmas. No. I’m not talking about Santa Claus. He’s way too busy this time of year.

No, it’s Bruce Willis as that barefooted, put-upon cop John McClane, who not only saves his wife but also the Nakatomai Tower, and Christmas itself — well at least for the hostages — in the now classic 1988 action flick “Die Hard.”

The film catapulted Willis from the status of a TV actor and wine-cooler huckster to one of the biggest stars in Hollywood in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The movie is back in theaters this weekend, playing at the AMC Fiesta Square and Malco’s Razorback and Rogers Towne theaters.

Is “Die Hard” a Christmas movie?

I’ll let you decide that for yourself. The action does begin during an office Christmas party when Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and his minions make like the Grinch and attempt to steal $648 million in bearer bonds.

However, Willis’ John McClane throws a wet blanket on Gruber’s plans in for my money one of the best action flicks ever made.

At the center of “Die Hard” is a charismatic performance by Willis that he would never match on the big screen. I’d argue his turn as David Addison on five seasons of “Moonlighting” is nearly as strong and more charming, but I can’t think of any other Willis performances or films that are even close to the thrills he generated in “Die Hard.”

As cool a customer as Willis was as McClane, Rickman matched him as the diabolically arrogant Gruber, who made you want to hiss every time he appeared on screen. Rickman’s stylishly sleazy and wicked Gruber only strengthened Willis’ reluctantly heroic McClane.

Much like Sylvester Stallone’s turn in “Rocky,” Willis’ smart-mouthed yet endearing performance just made you root for McClane more and more through each successively inconceivable yet some how believable obstacle he bulled his way through in hopes of saving his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia).

Reginald Vel Johnson adds a winning supporting turn as LAPD Sgt. Al Powell, who becomes McClane’s cheerleader and an emotional-support sidekick via walkie talkie in the latter half of the film.

I’m not sure that “Die Hard” is the type of movie that will actually get you into the Christmas mood this holiday season, but it’s a fun adventure that sweeps you up in the story and never lets you dwell on how outlandish the movie actually is. It’s pure escapism with Willis at the top of his form.

“Die Hard” is no antidote for Covid-19, but it’s the type of movie that can help you take your mind off the stress for a little while.