Streaming Wars: Disney Plus, HBO Max battle for Christmas audience with release of ‘Soul’ and ‘Wonder Woman 1984’

Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman 1984 / Warner Bros.

Christmas Day is a time for peace on Earth and good will toward men, but this year it’s also a battleground in the growing streaming wars.

While Netflix remains the dominant streaming channel of the moment, two major players Disney Plus and HBO Max are each firing major salvos across the streaming decks on Christmas Day with the release of two films that were crafted to make the cash registers ring before the Covid-19 did a number on the movie theater business.

Much to the chagrin of film exhibitors, WarnerMedia releases its latest super-hero feature “Wonder Woman 1984” simultaneously in theaters and on its streaming service HBO Max on Christmas Day. Here’s a look at the trailer for the follow-up to the original film, released in 2017.

Disney Plus counters by offering fans access to the latest computer-animated Pixar production “Soul” to its streaming service.

“Wonder Woman 1984” was originally scheduled to be released in theaters last June, but the pandemic continued to push and push the release date later into the year.

Disney had planned to release “Soul’ in theaters the week of Thanksgiving, but the second surge of the Coronavirus scrapped that. When Warner opted to release “Wonder Woman 1984” on HBO Max on Christmas Day, Disney countered by offering “Soul” on its streaming to dim the spotlight on the classic DC Comics character.

Currently Disney Plus, which recently raised its subscription rate by $1 per month, has 60.5 million subscribers after just over a year in service. HBO Max, which bowed in June, is lagging with just 12.5 million subscribers, but the service has only been available on Roku for a week and just a few weeks longer on Amazon Fire. HBO Max has added nearly 5 million new subscribers since early December.

Warner Bros. expects HBO Max to grow steadily next year after announcing that it will release its entire 2021 movie slate day-and-date in theaters and on HBO Max. The move is sacrificing some of the potential box office draw — which likely will continue to be stunted through the end of next year because of the pandemic — as a loss leader to entice movie fans to subscribe to HBO Max.

About every three weeks, a new Warner movie will be available to stream on HBO Max the same day it opens in theaters. That includes expected blockbusters like “Dune,” “The Matrix 4,” “Godzilla Vs. Kong,” “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” and “The Suicide Squad.”

Will the gambit pay off?

That’s yet to be seen. The question remains how many major streaming channels are movie fans willing to subscribe to at one time?

Will a family splurge for Disney Plus and HBO Max, too?

That’s not even factoring in Netflix, which remains the 800-pound gorilla in the ring with 195.15 million paid subscribers worldwide. Amazon Prime is a gigantic factor, too, with 126 million members in the United States alone.

HBO Max’s debut last summer was soft because it did not have agreements with the nation’s two major streaming platforms Roku and Amazon Fire in place at the streamer’s launch.

Only time will tell if that lost momentum can be recaptured, but the addition of 5 million new subscribers in December says there is room for growth, for the AT&T-owned entity.

Personally I’m torn about the rapid growth of streamers, and the amount of resources Disney and Warner are sinking into their streaming platforms. The streamers, once thought to be the wave of the future, are the here and now. The pandemic forced that issue by closing down or limiting the draw of theme parks and movie theaters throughout 2020.

While WarnerMedia has said releasing its films day-and-date in theaters and on HBO Max is a one-year move only, it’s going to be hard to put that genie back in the bottle.

While I do enjoy the convenience of watching movies at home, I love going to the movie theater. Next to attending a live sporting event, it’s my favorite pastime. To me, even a bad movie is made better by seeing it at the theater.

If “Wonder Woman 1984” were opening only in theaters Friday, I’d be tempted to go Christmas Day or at least at some point during the weekend. However, with it available on HBO Max and the coronavirus surge still raging, I’ll likely just watch it at home, maybe as a double feature with “Soul.”

How about you?

New In Local Movie Theaters Friday

  • Wonder Woman 1984(PG-13) 2 hr. 31 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Towne, Skylight
  • News of the World(PG-13) 1 hr. 58 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Towne, Skylight
  • Promising Young Woman(R) 1 hr. 53 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Towne
  • Pinocchio(PG-13) 2 hr. 5 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square
  • The Dissident(PG-13) 1hr. 59 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing at: Malco Razorback

    Classic Corner – The Way We Were

    Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were / Columbia Pictures

    “The Way We Were” has all the ingredients for a delicious romance. At their best, stars Barbara Streisand and Robert Redford are formidable with acting chops to match their on-screen appeal.

    Likewise Sydney Pollack was a fine director with such diverse films as “Out of Africa,” “Tootsie,” “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” “Jeremiah Johnson,” “Absence of Malice,” “Presumed Innocent,” and “The Firm” to his credit.

    How could a romance with those three ingredients plus what would become an Academy Award-winning song miss?

    It couldn’t, but then again it sorta did.

    Confused? Tune into Turner Classic Movies at 9 p.m. Saturday, and you’ll see what I mean.

    I wouldn’t call the film bad because it’s not. It’s just, well, a bit off kilter in a way that you just wouldn’t expect given the director and the stars.

    The film is a romance, but it’s also a growing-apart movie. As passionately as the two principal characters Katie Morosky (Streisand), a political activist, and Hubbell Gardiner (Redford), a talented but carefree screenwriter, fall for each other, after that initial steam, there’s not a lot of heat left between them. They remain fond of each other, but they don’t love each other enough after the initial passion dissipates. Even the birth of a daughter fails to unite the couple.

    Don’t get me wrong. The plot is not what’s wrong with the picture; however, the screenplay lacks urgency and the editing is more than a little disjointed.

    That said when the chemistry works between Streisand and Redford, the film does produce some heat, and toward the end, a tinge of longing.

    However, the only aspect of the movie that lives up to its star-studded promise is Streisand’s glorious vocal performance of the theme, which evokes far more emotion than anything Pollack was able to commit to film in this meandering movie.