Warner Bros. filmmakers were crushed to learn their movies were heading straight to HBO Max in 2021.
Filmmakers like “Dune” director Denis Villeneuve were crushed to learn of their films’ sudden hybrid-release-model fate back in December 2020 when Warner Bros. announced it would shift all its 2021 film titles to day-and-date rollouts in theaters and on streaming platform HBO Max. That won’t be the case in 2022, as Warner Bros. is already striking agreements with theaters to install a 45-day window between theatrical and streaming premieres. Yet the damage is done (with Christopher Nolan especially going off on the studio for dumping its slate on HBO Max, “the worst streaming service,” as he called it). In a new interview on Vox’s “Recode” podcast, Jason Kilar, CEO of Warner Bros. and HBO Max parent company WarnerMedia, admits the company could’ve approached the announcement differently by opening up more dialogue with filmmakers and talent.
“There’s no doubt that it was bumpy back in early December of last year,” he said, adding that if he could do it over again, he’d likely give more of an advance warning to members of Hollywood before dropping the bomb. “If I had the chance to do it over again, I think it’s very fair to say that we would have taken a couple more days to see if we could have had even more conversations than we were able to have.”
“There is absolutely no love for cinema, nor for the audience here,” Villeneuve wrote in an essay back in December about the shift. “It is all about the survival of a telecom mammoth, one that is currently bearing an astronomical debt of more than $150 billion. Therefore, even though ‘Dune’ is about cinema and audiences, AT&T is about its own survival on Wall Street. With HBO Max’s launch a failure thus far, AT&T decided to sacrifice Warner Bros.’ entire 2021 slate in a desperate attempt to grab the audience’s attention.”
Kilar has been CEO of WarnerMedia for less than a year, and he’s aggressively trying to build up the company to rival the likes of Netflix. Still, he said, unlike that platform, WarnerMedia has a commitment to releasing its titles in theaters again.
“I think it’s very fair to say that a big, you know, let’s say a big DC movie … it’s very fair to say that that would go exclusively to theaters first and then go to somewhere like an HBO Max after it’s in theaters,” he said. That means that this year, when audiences want to check out the DC film “The Suicide Squad” when it arrives on August 6, they have the choice of either seeing it in theaters or directly at home on HBO Max. As for “The Batman,” when that releases in March 2022, audiences will have to check it out in theaters first.