HBO Max-Warner Bros. 2021 Deal Surprises Movie Chains


Dheeksha Bhima Reddy

The deal between HBO Max and Warner Bros. allows movie watchers to enjoy films such as “Wonder Woman 1984,” “Dune” and “The Matrix 4” either in theaters or at home by streaming on HBO Max for one month.

In response to the ongoing pandemic and its impact on theaters nationwide, entertainment giant Warner Bros. made a game-changing deal in early December 2020 with newly-launched streaming service HBO Max. 

The deal aims to release all 2021 Warner Bros. movies on HBO Max for one month starting the same day they release in theaters that are open. It follows the initial decision to release “Wonder Woman 1984” in the same format on Christmas Day 2020. 

“We’re living in unprecedented times which call for creative solutions, including this new initiative for the Warner Bros. Pictures Group,” Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff said in an interview with CNBC. 

Sarnoff defended the company’s decision after it was criticized by directors and movie chains who warned that the deal hurts film employees and their businesses. 

Warner Media, which owns HBO and Warner Bros., said it is preparing to lay off thousands of employees because of a large consumer shift toward streaming media, which was primarily caused by the pandemic, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do,” Sarnoff said. “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.”

AMC CEO Adam Aron said there was no need for the HBO Max and Warner Bros. deal and that its presence has made it harder for his company to survive. 

“These coronavirus-impacted times are uncharted waters for all of us, which is why AMC signed on to an HBO Max’ exception to customary practices for one film only, ‘Wonder Woman 1984,’ being released by Warner Brothers at Christmas when the pandemic appears that it will be at its height,” Aron said in a statement. “However, Warner now hopes to do this for all their 2021 theatrical movies, despite the likelihood that with vaccines right around the corner the theatre business is expected to recover.”

In contrast, the movie chain Cineworld, the parent company of Regal, believes the decision is reasonable because of the current circumstances and because Warner Bros. will still have a good relationship with the company when the pandemic ends. 

“We believe that at such a time WB will look to reach an agreement about the proper window and terms that will work for both sides,” Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger said in an interview with Deadline. “Big movies are made for the big screen, and we cannot wait to reopen our cinemas in Q1 in order to offer our customers, as always, the best place to watch a movie.”

Cinemark has also revealed that the pandemic combined with the rise of streaming has put a lot of strain on the company. However, Greidinger expressed optimism that theaters will survive the crisis. 

“We are very encouraged by the giant steps achieved recently with regards to the COVID-19 vaccination process, which is expected to be put in place earlier than previously anticipated,” Greidinger said. “This will generate significant relief for our industry and enable our cinemas to make a great comeback.”

The movies included in the HBO Max-Warner Bros. deal are “Dune,” “The Matrix 4” and “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” among others.