For the past several weeks, as Wonder Woman 1984 became the last blockbuster hopeful to remain on the theatrical schedule for the 2020 holiday season, the industry wondered if WarnerMedia would keep the film in theaters (possibly delaying its release until 2021) or opt to shift it to its upstart streaming service, HBO Max.
The answer, surprisingly, is both: Wonder Woman 1984 will be released simultaneously in movie theaters and on HBO Max on Dec. 25, the company said today. The film will be available for a month on HBO Max in the U.S., at no additional cost to subscribers.
With its decision, WarnerMedia hopes to give the flailing theatrical exhibitors a much-needed financial boost during the pandemic—as most major films have either been postponed until 2021 or moved to streaming services—while also giving a major push to its own streaming platform, HBO Max.
“As we navigate these unprecedented times, we’ve had to be innovative in keeping our businesses moving forward while continuing to super-serve our fans,” said Ann Sarnoff, chair and CEO, WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, in a statement. “This is an amazing film that really comes to life on the big screen and, working with our partners in the exhibition community, we will provide that option to consumers in the U.S. where theaters are open. We realize that a lot of consumers can’t go back to the movies due to the pandemic, so we also want to give them the option to see Wonder Woman 1984 via our HBO Max platform.”
Wonder Woman 1984 is the sequel to 2017’s Wonder Woman, which grossed $822 million internationally. Warner Bros. had been eyeing a $1 billion worldwide gross for the sequel, but after delaying its original June 2020 release multiple times due to the pandemic, it instead opted for this simultaneous release experiment.
In doing so, Wonder Woman 1984 becomes the highest-profile film yet to make its debut on a streaming platform as a result of Covid-19.
In September, Disney opted to bypass theaters in the U.S. and make its live-action feature film, Mulan, available to Disney+ subscribers who paid $30 extra to watch the film via Premier Access.
Other big budget films intended for an initial theatrical release have gone direct to a streaming platform. Recent high-profile examples include the filmed original Broadway production of Hamilton. That production debuted on Disney+ in July, more than a year before its planned 2021 theatrical release. Last month, The Witches, starring Anne Hathaway, premiered on HBO Max.
Warner Bros., which made Wonder Woman 1984, was not going to repeat its mistake in releasing Tenet in the U.S. and around the world in September, to a tepid box office. “I can’t say we walked away from the Tenet experience thinking it was a home run,” John Stankey, CEO of WarnerMedia’s parent company, AT&T, told investors last month.
The decision comes as media companies are still struggling with whether or not to postpone their theatrical releases or move them to a streaming service.
During last week’s earnings call, Disney CEO Bob Chapek said Disney was “very pleased” with Mulan’s results, but the company did not disclose figures. “We saw enough very positive results before that controversy started that we’ve got something here in terms of the Premier Access strategy,” Chapek said.
However, Disney opted to debut its next Pixar film, Soul, on Disney+—with no Premier Access surcharge—instead of theaters.
Wonder Woman 1984 should provide a big lift to HBO Max’s subscriber base.