After skipping theatrical releases in favor of a straight-to-streaming option led to subpar box office performances, WarnerMedia has decided to play its biggest films exclusively in theatres in 2022, no matter what state the cinema industry will be in that time.
Jason Kilar, the CEO of WarnerMedia, confirmed this decision on the Vox podcast "Recode Media with Peter Kafka," where he explained the studio will only show its films in theatres and will no longer release them on HBO Max on the same day. Of course, the films can still make their way onto the streaming service eventually, but only after they've had a full run at the cinemas.
"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,” Kilar stated during the interview.
Warner Bros. has signed deals with several theater chains allowing their blockbuster hits to be sent to streaming within 45 days, which cuts the theatrical run time in half. Such an arrangement is expected to take effect as soon as next year.
In a previous interview with CNBC, Kilar expanded on this update, saying that the films which are "big and epic in scope" will have an exclusive theatrical period:
"When you think about, you know, the world of DC and Harry Potter and things like that, big, epic scope movies, I think deserve and will have an exclusive theatrical run," he said. "But there will be other movies; a large number of movies that will go to HBO Max [on] the same day that those same movies were made available to exhibitors and cinemas around the world."
Warner Bros. had recent success with one of its latest offerings, Godzilla vs. Kong, which managed to gross $32.2 million domestically on its opening weekend, plus $48.5 million for the five-day Easter weekend. Once it opened in foreign markets, it earned a whopping total of $285.4 million. Clearly, people still appreciate the novelty of going to the theatres to see a film; it's just a matter of whether we can get to a point where it feels comfortable and safe to watch films in public again.
With vaccinations currently underway across the globe, we can expect to see a lot more people in cinemas by 2022. Should the industry make a comeback, WarnerMedia's strategy will surely prove to be worthwhile.