If at the start of this year, I made a list of predictions for major movie events that would happen in 2020, I wouldn't have even with a hundred guesses believed that Wonder Woman 1984 would be going straight to a streaming service. But welcome to the bucket of crazy that is 2020.
For months on The Movie Breakdown, Scott and I have discussed often how much the pandemic has shaken up the typical theatrical model and how the movie studios have had to make some big changes. We've had some fun predicting what will shift over to streaming or VOD. Some of the biggest shifts were done with Disney when they moved Mulan as a premium offering on Disney Plus and will be releasing Pixar's Soul on the service on Christmas Day.
Now, the first movie that had a very strong chance of being the biggest box office hit of the year in a non-pandemic locked-down year is going straight to a streaming service. Scott and I talked about how it was inevitable that a big tentpole was destined to go to a streaming service if the pandemic and lockdown dragged on, but I was still shocked to learn that Warner Brothers was releasing Wonder Woman 1984 on HBO Max on Christmas Day.
Up to this point, studios have been holding out hope that in the near future the pandemic would disappear, and everyone would be itching to head back to the theatres. Warner Brothers is one of the first to really admit that it is still a long way off before the vaccine is not only approved but ready to be administered to as many people as possible to begin herd immunity. The movie gates may indeed have been blasted open with other studios possibly releasing their tentpoles on their streaming services if the HBO Max strategy proves to be a success.
Warner Brothers has an advantage because they own HBO Max, so all the new subscribers are funneling money directly to them and they can also use the sure to be huge spike in numbers this December to appeal to investors and stockholders. I doubt things will be under control enough for their to be a summer movie season in 2021 and to be honest, most of the year will probably be similar to 2020, so I won't be shocked if Disney Plus pulls the trigger on releasing Black Widow next summer.
I don't think this is the time to mourn the death of the movie theatres, but 2020 is the year that studios start putting a lot more attention and value on streaming services. Disney has restructured their whole entertainment side to prioritize streaming services. Though, it should be noted that the Mulan experiment of trying a premium VOD for their Disney Plus subscribers seems to have flopped or otherwise, they would have had a press release celebrating the massive success, instead we haven't heard a peep on how many people have actually rented Mulan. Going forward, my guess is it will be about studios using major movies to skyrocket their subscriber numbers, and Wonder Woman 1984 will likely cause some record-breaking subscriber numbers come December 25th.
The challenge is that not every studio has their own streaming service and those studios likely aren't interested in selling off their giant event pictures. Also, the market is getting so stuffed with streaming services, that some seem destined to crash into a flaming heap alongside Shomi. This is also a situation of trying to make a delicious cupcake out of a flaming bag of dogshit, because there is no way they are making the same money on streaming that they would've made with a gigantic box-office smash hit. During these unpredictable times, it may be deemed better to get the movie out and start the conversation rather than sit on it for an unknown amount of time. Though to be honest, as a long-time lover of the theatrical experience and someone that desperately wants the movie theatres to survive the pandemic, there is a large part of me that wishes Warner Brothers waited to when movie theatres could handle a blockbuster.
They are releasing Wonder Woman 1984 in theatres, which I think is to appease director Patty Jenkins who is a big champion for the theatrical experience and also a bone being thrown to movie theatres. They can't just rely on movie theatres come December 25th, since there will definitely be many places where cinemas will still be shutdown or the best case scenario of only allowing a limited capacity in each auditorium, which is far from ideal for a big blockbuster.
My guess is this will be one of the cases where the movie theatres will actually not push back against the day and date release, and still accept Wonder Woman 1984. Considering how little is being release for the rest of 2020, theatres would be foolish and stubborn to reject a major movie like this even though a large portion of the audience will opt for HBO Max. At this point, it has to be seen as a goodwill gesture by Warner Brothers to offer something huge for those who are stuck at home and also has the major side effect of boosting subscriber numbers. Theatres should just accept that some will be starving for the big screen experience despite their being other options.
The interesting thing is that Wonder Woman 1984 is only set to be on HBO Max for one month. My assumption is that is to help VOD sales and also, yet another bone thrown to the salivating movie theatres where maybe some may have less restrictions come February. Patty Jenkins has gone on record that she hopes the motion picture will have a long theatrical window and have some success there. One thing this strategy shows is that the studio has a lot of faith in this movie, since they trust word of mouth will not only increase subscribers but have people seeking it on other platforms a month after it is released.
If 2021 becomes the year that streaming services unleash the long-awaited tentpoles then it also will likely become the year of one month subscribers. I can't see too many people subscribing to six or more streaming services especially if they were cord cutters, but I can see many paying a one-month subscription fee to see a must-see movie, catch a few other offerings and then drop the service, This isn't really sustainable for a streaming service obviously and I think 2021 will show some clear winners and losers. Considering what Warner Brother and Disney have itching to be releases, I'd say Disney Plus, and HBO Max are going to be two of the major victors.
While I don't think day and date releases will become the norm for major studio movies, especially after the pandemic, I think it is time to recognize the death of the decades long 90 day window before a movie can go on video. It is definitely going to be a month or so, during the pandemic, but I think, even when theatres open and thriving, that we will see major releases going to streaming and VOD much sooner. It was clear for years that it had to change, but the pandemic has increased, and that toothpaste isn't going back in the tube ever again, As a father of two kids under 9, I know all about toothpaste refusing to return to the tube.
As a Canadian, I have to ask how Wonder Woman 1984 will be released here, Crave is a premium collection of channels here that carries what is known as HBO Canada, and essentially, has most of the original HBO offerings. When HBO Max arrived in the US, Crave announced they would carry the HBO exclusive programming, Despite that promise, The Witches that was released on HBO Max back in October has not been released on Crave, as far as I can tell (I don't have the service but their site does not list the movie). Cineplex announced that The Witches would be coming to theatres in November, but it is no longer on the upcoming releases section of the Cineplex website.
It looks like it was a Warner Brothers decision to pull it off the planned November 20th release date in Canada due a large amount of theatres closing again due to a spike in Covid cases. My guess is that Wonder Woman 1984 is another movie that Warner Brothers would aim for a theatrical release in this country rather than put on Crave, but that is going to be rather hard for movie goers to see if theatres remain closed come Christmas.
I live in a city where the local theatre closed after Sunday, and considering the situation isn't getting better, I'm not confident it will be open within a month, To be honest, I have an unsettling feeling it may not ever open again. This means that it will be really difficult for me to see and review Wonder Woman 1984 if it follows the path of The Witches and is exclusive to movie theatres for the first few months. I applaud the effort to support theatres, but you can't go to something that isn't open. There is a strong chance that the movie may get delayed for months up here or risk being released during a time where very few theatres are open.
As is usually the case, some big game changing event takes in the United States and Canadians get to scream 'What about us!?1' But to be honest, if it was on Crave and it also was released in an open movie theatre near me, I would choose the big screen. This is why I think even American theatres shouldn't balk on releasing the picture even though it will be available on streaming. I know they despise the day and date, but this is a time to be flexible.
Especially considering the lack of new movies has meant for the last several months that movies from decades ago like Hocus Pocus, Empire Strikes Back and The Nightmare Before Christmas have been given wide releases and while they haven't been giant hits, they have made a few million on re-release despite being available on streaming, Blu-Ray and cable. There are people itching to head back to the cinemas, and if they will head out for decades old movies, I'm confident they will support the latest tentpole on the biggest screen and best sound possible even if it is also available to see at home. This is the kind of movie you want to experience at the theatre if you feel safe enough and it is actually available.
Warner Brothers has made the next big move. I am confident when the pandemic is under control and people feel safe that movie theatres will skyrocket in attendance. Until then, movie studios need to pivot and come up with new strategies to be able to make a profit on their shelved films. It will be interesting to see in the coming months how other studios respond and how the movie landscape continues to shift.
Meanwhile, Canadians will just keep waiting for the movie theatre doors to open again so they can actually see these big event movies.