Warner Brothers has decided to debut its 2021 films on HBO Max at the same time as in theatres
A total of 17 films are included in the instant-streaming deal, including Denis Villeneuve’s hotly-anticipated remake of sci-fi epic Dune, starring Zendaya and Timothée Chalamet, as well as the eagerly-awaited fourth installment of The Matrix saga, which sees Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss reprise their roles as Neo and Trinity.
Odeon owner AMC is locked in “serious talks” with Warner Brothers over the plans, accusing the company of subsidising HBO Max. AMC boss Adam Aron said: “We will do all in our power to ensure that Warner does not do so at our expense. We will aggressively pursue economic terms that preserve our business. We have already commenced an immediate and urgent dialogue with the leadership of Warner on this subject.”
The move by Warner Brothers to instantly stream its 2021 titles deals a further blow to movie theatres, many of which have struggled through 2020 following lengthy closures due to the coronavirus pandemic. Vue announced plans to shut nearly a quarter of its UK cinemas in October to account for delays in the release of high profile films, while Cineworld “temporarily suspended” its operations in the UK and the US, putting 45,000 jobs at risk.
The films up for simultaneous release in cinemas and HBO Max, not yet available in the UK, will be accessible on the platform for one month after release. The news has escalated the tensions between Hollywood and movie theatres in the US.
Ann Sarnoff, chair and chief executive of WarnerMedia Studios, said that the pandemic called for “creative solutions”. She added: “No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do. We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theatres in the US will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021.”
Director Villeneuve recently revealed his struggles adapting Frank Herbert’s colossal 1965 novel, as he tried to balance staying true to the original text while steering clear of re-hashing David Lynch’s bizarre 1984 interpretation. Disruptions due to the pandemic “crushed” his schedule, he told Indiewire at the Shanghai International Film Festival this year, adding that: “It will be a sprint to finish the movie on time right now.” A month later it was announced that the film would be pushed back from its original December 18 release date to October 2021.
Euphoria star Zendaya, who plays Chalamet’s love interest in Dune, spoke of her excitement about the project in a recent interview with InStyle. “Dune was incredible,” she says. “I wasn’t in it very much, so when I was watching the trailer, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ I called Timothée (Chalamet) and said, ‘Dude! You should be proud.’ It is a big deal to even be a small part of something with such a massive cast. And I love sci-fi stuff too. It’s fun to escape into another world.”
Production on The Matrix 4, meanwhile, ran into coronavirus issues of a different kind when it was reported that producers held a wrap party with 200 people. It was alleged that producers Lana and Lilly Wachowski invited 200 people to be “extras” on the set in Germany to avoid lockdown rules. After also suffering from pandemic-related delays, the film is currently slated for release in December 2021.