Student Article: Warner Bros. Faces Backlash After Moving Entire 2021 Catalog to HBO Max

Warner Bros. Faces Backlash After Moving Entire 2021 Catalog to HBO Max.

February 11, 2021


Written by Yasmin Miranda

At the end of 2020, Christopher Nolan, the director of “Inception,” “The Dark Knight,” and“Interstellar,” criticized Warner Brothers and AT&T for their move to release their entire 2021 catalog​ on HBO Max and in select theaters. “Some of our industry’s biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service,” Nolan said in a statement for ​The Hollywood Reporter.

Many criticized this hybrid release not only due its abrupt nature, but also because of what was happening behind the scenes before the move was announced. As Warner Bros. moved “Wonder Woman 1984” to a hybrid release, ​The New York Times​ reported that actress Gal Gadot, who plays the titular role of Wonder Woman, and director Patty Jenkins were paid a sum of over $10 million to make up for the loss in ticket sales and to promote the HBO Max release. This caused a huge upset as other stars such as Denzel Washington (The Little Things), Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad),Will Smith (King Richard), Keanu Reeves (The Matrix 4), Hugh Jackman (Reminiscence), and Angelina Jolie (Those Who Wish Me Dead), were not treated in the same manner and many were blindsided by the swift change.

Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman 1984 [Image Credit: Radio Times]

Although it is important to note that these issues can still be negotiated, which is something that we will probably see sometime in the future. Aside from actors, Warner Bros. sister studio Legendary is also unhappy with the move. Netflix had previously offered Legendary over ​$255 million dollars​ for the rights to “Godzilla vs. Kong” starring Millie Bobby Brown which would have made up the value the movie lost due to the pandemic. Ultimately, Warner Bros. ​blocked​ the sale despite Legendary having financed most of the movie themselves, in efforts to keep it off the streaming service, only to release it on their own streaming service.

The Warner Bros. controversial streaming move does signal a change in Hollywood and gives us a peek into the future many already saw coming. With the COVID-19 pandemic, theaters have faced huge monetary losses with their closures, and health concerns are turning people away from spending a weekend at the movies.Understandably, this is making more and more people trade the theater experience for sitting at home and tuning into popular streaming services, such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+. Warner Bros. deciding to move its entire 2021 catalog, worth over ​$2 Billion​ in production costs, to HBO Max is just another sign of the domination streaming services are increasingly having over theaters.

Whether or not this is a good thing, there are notably some drawbacks to having films debut on streaming services. Joe Pichirallo, a former studio executive spoke to ​Variety on the troubles of measuring a film’s success when it is released in a streaming service rather than a theater, “It used to be that box office success impacted one’s standing in the industry and that impacted your fees and the projects you could make. If we’re now putting the emphasis not on box office grosses but on how movies drive subscribers to HBO Max, that’s going to require a different way of evaluating success.” This is especially due to streaming services like Netflix being ​reluctant​ to share data on how well movies or television shows do on their platforms.

Although films will still be in theaters, the question remains, will people show up? Christopher Nolan’s film Tenet was released in theaters on September 3, 2020, with many hoping that it would launch a revival to the public going to movie theaters in person. Unfortunately,that didn’t really happen. Although “Tenet” didn’t do as terribly as some may have assumed, it also didn’t do very well, raking up around $357.8 million, although it was expected to earn around $400 million in order to ​break even​ (double its production cost of $205 million).

Image from Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (2020) [Image Credit: Forbes]

It is sad to see the movie-going experience diminish, and although many see the push back to studios moving to streaming services as old-fashioned, nothing can really replace experiencing a movie in a theater. As Pichirallo stated, “it is sad to see the movie business treated as just a vehicle for building up a streaming platform.” Still amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, moving film releases to streaming services might be the only true way of keeping the public safe. For the time being, filmmakers simply will have to adjust. Truthfully, movie theaters aren’t going to disappear overnight, which is a relief to many. But with prominent studios releasing their films on streaming services it will get harder to pull people away from their homes and into an AMC.