We already knew that Wonder Woman 1984 would stream at no charge for subscribers to HBO MAX at the same time it would be released in those theaters that might be open by December 25, 2020. But Warner Bros decided to get ahead of the game — even with a positive outlook for vaccines in 2021, there’s no guarantee when theaters will be safe, or more importantly, when movie fans will feel safe in theaters. Thus the studio announced this morning that all of their 2021 slate will be streaming on HBO MAX for free (for subscribers) day and date with theatrical release.
That includes Dune. That includes Godzilla vs. Kong. That includes The Suicide Squad. That includes The Matrix 4. That includes Tom & Jerry, in case you were anxious for that one.
Does this change the game entirely? More likely it’s accurate to say it’s accelerating toward the inevitable. Though according to Variety, WarnerMedia Chair and CEO Ann Sarnoff calls it a “unique one-year plan,” it may be hard to put the streaming genie back in the bottle. TV screens keep getting bigger and better, while dropping in price alongside home projection systems. Already WarnerMedia has seen that rival Disney’s stock has gone back to pre-COVID levels based on the success of Disney+. AT&T wants some of that.
Even before the launch of Disney+, it’s been clear that studios saw a shift away from theatrical experiences on the horizon. The Disney streaming service blurred the line almost out of the gate, announcing Marvel Studios shows that would tie in to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and, of course, The Mandalorian. Though their movie offerings had at first tended to be things from their slate they might not have had theatrical faith in anyway (hello, Artemis Fowl), eventually they experimented with Mulan, and on Christmas Day, I promise you I’m having a double feature of Wonder Woman 1984 and Pixar’s Soul.
In 2021, it won’t just be Godzilla vs. Kong. The streaming war has just heated up.