More often than not, we don’t realize when a fateful decision is a big deal that has ramifications for years to come. Those kinds of moments are rare, but powerful. I doubt the first person to use a cell phone knew just how big a deal that breakthrough was when they made that first call.
Other decisions are more obvious. You know from the get-go that this is one of those choices that might not be surprising, but you get the sense it’ll be one of those moments that you can cite as a major turning point years from now.
This Christmas, we may just experience one of those moments because that’s the day “Wonder Woman 1984” is set to come out, both in theaters and on streaming. I don’t think it’s a stretch to claim this decision could change movies, entertainment, and media for years to come.
It finally became official. After being originally set for release in June 2020, Warner Brothers decided that, rather than simply wait for this once-in-a-century pandemic to end, they’re going to release “Wonder Woman 1984” in theaters and on HBO Max on the same day. This is what The Hollywood Reporter had to say.
With a second wave of COVID-19 impacting many parts of the globe, Wonder Woman 1984 is changing course yet again.
The tentpole is all but giving up on a traditional theatrical release and will instead bow in whatever cinemas remain open Dec. 25 as well as stream on HBO Max in the U.S. for one month beginning on Christmas Day. In international markets where HBO Max is not available, the film starts rolling out Dec. 16.
“At some point you have to choose to share any love and joy you have to give, over everything else,” director Patty Jenkins said in a statement Wednesday. “We love our movie as we love our fans, so we truly hope that our film brings a little bit of joy and reprieve to all of you this holiday season.”
Jenkins urged audiences to watch the $200 million tentpole in theaters where it was safe to do so, and on HBO Max where it is not. In a note echoing Jenkins, star Gal Gadot added, “It wasn’t an easy decision and we never thought we’d have to hold on to the release for such a long time but COVID rocked all of our worlds.”
Growing the number of HBO Max customers is of huge import to TimeWarner, even if it means giving up on potential box office ticket sales that Wonder Woman 1984 would have earned had it been pushed to sometime in 2021. The hope is that a high-profile Christmas Day title such as the superhero sequel will lure new subscribers (HBO Max is pricier than most other streamers, at $15.99 a month).
That’s just the basics. “Wonder Woman 1984” is still coming out in theaters, as it was always meant to. However, with theaters on the brink of collapse in wake of the pandemic, Warner Brothers is opting to gamble on the future of streaming media. They’re dropping this big name blockbuster that cost $200 million to make on their signature streaming service, HBO Max.
Logistically speaking, it’s understandable. The news surrounding the pandemic has been bleak, even by 2020 standards. Even though a vaccine seems imminent, it might be too late to save the movie industry as we know it. The damage has been done. That industry must change. This may very well be the biggest change we’ve seen since in decades.
This is not some forgettable movie like “Trolls World Tour” skipping theaters for streaming. That could’ve been written off as a calculated risk for a movie that was never going to make much at the box office to begin with. This is a tentpole blockbuster from a studio’s biggest franchise skipping over what many see as the most critical part of a movie’s life.
The first “Wonder Woman” movie made north of $800 million on a budget of $150 million during its theatrical run. That’s a lot of profit, but may be a profit that even a blockbuster movie just can’t make anymore in a post-pandemic world. Even after the pandemic ends, who’s to say that the theater industry will just go back to the way it used to be?
Now, it seems Warner Brothers are prepared to leveraging their future on their HBO Max streaming service. “Wonder Woman 1984” is, by far, their biggest chip and most valuable asset. It, more than any other movie they had in the can, was most likely to get their studios’ profits going again once the pandemic waned.
Instead, this movie that has so many excited and eager, myself include, is going to be Warner Brothers’ boldest gamble at turning HBO Max into a viable Netflix competitor. They’re not just looking to do for HBO Max what “The Mandalorian” did for Disney Plus. They want to go a step further and make streaming the new avenue for big title blockbusters.
It’s impossible to overstate how big a shift this is for the movie industry. Whereas “Trolls World Tour” on streaming was a sign, releasing “Wonder Woman 1984” on the same day it comes out in theaters is a monumental shift.
It’s essentially sacrificing potential profits at the box office for a new host of subscribers to HBO Max. Will that ultimately make more money in the long run? It’s possible.
After all, those who buy a movie ticket to see “Wonder Woman 1984” are only going to pay for that ticket. From that purchase, Warner Brothers will only see a fraction. If a bunch of people subscribe to HBO Max, they may ultimately pay much more to the studio through its monthly $16 fee.
Even if most just buy an HBO MAX subscription for a single month and cancel, it’s very likely that plenty will stay subscribed, keep paying, and keep coming back for more wonderful blockbusters. In the long run, “Wonder Woman 1984” might make more money for its studio overlord than it ever would have in the theaters.
That’s still a big if. So much of a movies profits is still tied to its box office. Nobody quite knows how this new model of releasing a movie will work. Streaming a movie on the same day it comes out in theaters may help widen the audience, but without those profits, the idea of footing the bill for a $200 million movie might be less tenable.
Would that mean that big budget blockbusters like “Wonder Woman 1984” became less rare?
Would that mean that theaters as a whole would diminish both in numbers and in importance for the industry?
Would that mean that blockbusters will ultimately have to cater to a streaming audience instead of a casual movie-goer?
It’s hard to say. Nobody knows. I certainly don’t know. I doubt anyone knows, but most can already sense that this could be the start of a much larger trend. Releasing “Wonder Woman 1984” on streaming and in theaters could ultimately be the point of no return for the movie industry.
This could be the future of entertainment and movies. Theaters are no longer the center of all things film and there’s no going back. Whether other blockbusters follow suit remains to be seen. I have a feeling Disney will be watching how “Wonder Woman 1984” performs closely, given how it opted to delay “Black Widow” until May 2021.
If it proves profitable in the long run, I suspect that Disney will follow suit and so will every other studio. At that point, the movie industry will have permanently changed and we’ll be able to cite this announcement as the moment it began.
There’s only one certainty at this point. On Christmas this year, I’ll be curled up on my couch to watch “Wonder Woman 1984” through my current HBO MAX subscription. Whatever monumental changes this movie inspires in the industry, it’s still Wonder Woman. I still intend to partake in her wonder, no matter what form it takes.