Film theatres, producers fume, consider legal action as Warner plans to premiere 17 movies on HBO Max

by | Dec 18, 2020 | A&E

Warner Bros. and its parent company AT&T announced their slate of 2021 films would premiere on HBO Max, their exclusive streaming service, simultaneously with theatrical releases.

And there’s fear the move will cut into the operating viability of movie theatres across North America, moving both theatre companies and movie production companies, who say they were blindsided by the decision, to consider legal action to block Warner.

Warner Bros. announced its upcoming superhero blockbuster Wonder Woman 1984 would debut on HBO Max and in theatres on Dec. 25.

But the announcement doesn’t come without some concern.

AMC Entertainment CEO Adam Aron told Variety that he doesn’t want Warner to change the business model at the expense of America’s largest theatre chain, which is already reeling from COVID-19.

“Clearly, Warner Media intends to sacrifice a considerable portion of the profitability of its movie studio division, and that of its production partners and filmmakers, to subsidize its HBO Max startup,” he said. “As for AMC, we will do all in our power to ensure that Warner does not do so at our expense.

“We will aggressively pursue economic terms that preserve our business. We have already commenced an immediate and urgent dialogue with the leadership of Warner on this subject,” Aron told Variety.

Paul Moore, a professor of media and movie history at Ryerson University, said not only do theatre chains feel backstabbed by the decision, but it also impacts directors as well.

“As much as it’s driven by profit for directors and artists and actors, it’s also about giving their art form the respect that they want, rather than thinking of it as just another streaming show on television,” Moore said.

He said it appears Warner’s move is based on that theatre chains may not recover soon, or at all, “so the chains feel backstabbed and betrayed by this decision.”

Writer and director Christopher Nolan, famous for his Dark Knight trilogy and most recently, Tenet, told Entertainment Weekly the controversy includes Warner not telling anyone about the move.

“In 2021, they’ve got some of the top filmmakers in the world. They’ve got some of the biggest stars in the world who worked for years in some cases on these projects very close to their hearts that are meant to be big-screen experiences,” Nolan said.

The Director’s Guild of America has proposed a boycott that could be damaging to the studio.

The decision to put the 2021 lineup on HBO Max was not communicated to filmmakers early enough, and payouts to filmmakers like James Gunn for the Suicide Squad sequel were heavily undercut.

The New York Times reported agents for actors such as Angeline Jolie, Keanu Reeves and Margot Robbie are upset that their clients were not given more notice before the decision was made.

Legendary Pictures is also moving forward with a lawsuit against Warner Bros. for the lack of notice the company received on the matter. Legendary is co-producing the monster movie Godzilla vs King Kong which is the culmination of Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island (2017) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019).

The decision has caused some unrest among Canadian viewership, as HBO Max is not available in Canada. Some HBO-AT&T content is available through CraveTV, but after being asked about the availability on Twitter, Crave confirmed it would not be offering any of the movies as they premiere in the U.S.

Canadian viewers are less than happy about having to risk going to a theatre to see these movies while American viewers can see them from home.

“I don’t think I’ll feel particularly inclined to go to a theatre,” said Owen Hyland, a Humber College graphic design student.

“Having new movies premiere on streaming services has been pretty essential and I’d prefer having the option to watch them at home,” he said.

Toronto, Ottawa and Peel Region are currently in lockdown until Dec. 21. Should COVID case numbers continue to surge, that measure could be extended into the new year which affects the theatrical outcome greatly.

“One change I’ve noticed since the pandemic [started] has been the lack of hype surrounding new releases,” Hyland said. “Big franchise movies have dominated the box office for a while now and maybe that’s going to change now that they can’t release on a regular schedule like they have.”