The pandemic has forced Hollywood to rethink the entire movie business. 2020 saw Disney experiment with "Premier Access," allowing subscribers of Disney+ to pay an additional $30 to stream Mulan from the comfort of home. If you ask Disney — which investors did this week in the company's Q4 earnings call — the experiment was successful. And now, other studios may be planning something similar.
In the case of Warner Bros., that "something similar" is bringing Wonder Woman 1984 to HBO Max.
What Happened? — On November 12, Bloomberg published a report that WarnerMedia is optioning an HBO Max premiere of Wonder Woman 1984 "shortly after" the movie's theatrical release on Christmas Day, December 25. The article reports that could be as soon as "just a week or two" after Christmas.
Other outlets like Variety and Deadline also reported similar stories, each countering Bloomberg. Variety reports that a January 2021 premiere date is possible, while Deadline says studio executives have "kicked around the idea of a simultaneous theatrical and HBO Max release."
Everything about Wonder Woman 1984 is spurred by a second lockdown taking place in the UK and a possible second lockdown coming to the U.S., where individual states are still managing their own restrictions. With the long-delayed Wonder Woman 1984, a sequel to 2017's Wonder Woman that grossed over $800 million three years ago, WarnerMedia is weighing all options to finally get the movie out to a paying public.
Let's Get Down to Business — A precedent for WarnerMedia comes courtesy of rival Disney. In August, Disney announced that Mulan, a lavish remake of its 1998 animated musical, would no longer be a theatrical release film but a "Premier Access" title. For a fee, existing subscribers to Disney+ can watch Mulan and "keep" their purchase. Other Disney+ subscribers will get to watch Mulan for "free" starting December 4.
Disney has kept quiet about how much money it made from Mulan. But on November 12, the company held its Q4 earnings call with investors, where CEO Bob Chapek spoke positively of the Premier Access release of Mulan.
“We’ve got something here in terms of the Premier Access strategy,” Chapek said. “What we’ve learned with Mulan is there’s going to be a role for it strategically within our portfolio of offerings." The CEO hyped up an upcoming December 10 investor conference, where the studio is likely to announce another Premier Access release.
Mulan wasn't the only 2020 movie to be released in ways that would have been unusual pre-pandemic; summer flicks like Bill & Ted Face the Music were released simultaneously, on Digital HD and theatrical. But Mulan is a key example of similar multi-million blockbusters (like Wonder Woman 1984) that depend on high box office revenue to recoup investment. While Disney was willing to experiment with Mulan, it isn't taking that same risk with Marvel movies like Black Widow and Eternals.
WarnerMedia also took a hit this year with Tenet, the sci-fi thriller from Christopher Nolan. The anticipated movie stuck to a theatrical release during the pandemic, and consequently suffered an "underwhelming" performance that AT&T's John Stankey admitted to in an October investors call. Post-Tenet, it seems WarnerMedia learned from defeat and is willing to try something along the lines of Disney's Premier Access release for Wonder Woman 1984, a film that probably would have been one of its biggest hits of the year.
The Inverse Analysis — Any release for Wonder Woman 1984 that avoids theaters would be a good one for WarnerMedia. Just this week, a whopping 153,000 new cases of the novel coronavirus were reported in the United States on a single day (November 12). As people head into the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, it's more than possible for cases to spike even higher.
Movies are awesome and provide an emotional escape when the world gets tough. Superhero movies are perfect for such times, but not at the risk of more people. Whatever WarnerMedia decides to do with Wonder Woman 1984, one can only hope the studio takes a page out of the comic book stories it makes billions of dollars from: encourage people to be heroes and stay home.
Wonder Woman 1984 is scheduled to be released in theaters on Christmas Day.