Warner Bros. to stream 2021 blockbusters on HBO Max… but only in America

Big movies like Matrix 4, The Suicide Squad and Dune will be available to stream immediately, but not for Canadian viewers

Yes, it’s true: in 2021, Warner Bros. will make its entire release slate available to stream on HBO Max the day each film opens in theatres.

The list of films includes such highly anticipated tentpole pictures such as the fourth Matrix film, the giant-monster smackdown Godzilla Vs. Kong, James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad and Denis Villeneuve’s Dune. The movies will be streamable for subscribers at no added cost.

But here’s the catch: the HBO Max service is only available to residents of the United States.

“Canada will launch theatrically along with other worldwide territories,” Warner’s Canadian office confirmed in an e-mail to NOW.

That means the films will still follow the same release plan the Hollywood studio has always used: theatrical run first, followed by sale and rental options on video-on-demand (VOD) services like Apple TV and Google Play, followed a week or two later by a physical release on 4K, Blu-ray and DVD, and a few months later they’ll stream on premium services like Crave and Super Channel.

Bell Media’s Crave service carries a considerable chunk of HBO’s programming and a number of HBO Max exclusives, but Warner’s theatrical slate isn’t included in that arrangement.

“They will be coming to Crave following their standard theatrical windows,” the streaming platform said in a statement, noting that Tenet and Wonder Woman 1984, among others, will be available on Crave in 2021. “Our HBO Max deal with Warner Bros includes HBO Max Original Programming produced by Warner Bros. Television Group.”

The Melissa McCarthy comedy Superintelligence was available on Crave day and date with the HBO Max premiere last month, and Steven Soderbergh’s latest, Let Them All Talk, hits the service on December 11.

Warner’s announcement serves as an acknowledgment of the impact of COVID-19 on the theatrical landscape. In areas where theatres aren’t shuttered entirely, social-distancing protocols mean much smaller audiences and thus considerably lower box-office action.

Warner previously announced a simultaneous HBO Max availability for Wonder Woman 1984.

The release strategy – known as “day and date availability” in the industry – puts the films on the streaming service for 30 days, to offer subscribers the opportunity to see the film at home rather than go to a megaplex during the pandemic.

Since Warner and HBO Max exist under the same corporate umbrella, the strategy makes sense; HBO Max is looking to attract subscribers, and the opportunity to see brand-new studio releases at home in high-quality 4K Ultra High Definition and Dolby Atmos (where technology allows, of course) has to be an enticement.

But Warner doesn’t have an equivalent partner in Canada. Crave is owned by Bell Media.

There might be another scenario, though – one in which Warner collapses the window between theatrical and premium online rental, which offers home viewers the chance to rent a film on digital or cable services for a 48-hour window for a higher-than-usual price.

It’s how all the major studios made their releases available during the first lockdown, when Universal’s The Invisible Man, Sony’s Bloodshot and Warner’s Birds Of Prey were quickly shifted onto streaming platforms.

In fact, Universal’s doing this right now with its fall releases. Come Play, Let Him Go and Freaky all arrived as premium rentals within weeks of their theatrical bows. The studio has long been a proponent of putting films onto home screens as quickly as possible, recently announcing a deal with Cineplex that will shrink the theatrical exclusivity window to 17 days in Canada. Warner could easily follow suit if it deems the domestic box-office too meagre.

Let’s see how Wonder Woman 1984 does when it opens on Christmas Day – assuming there are theatres in which to open in – and what Warner does with it in January. That’ll be the real test.


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