The global pandemic forced every movie studio to get very creative when it came to their planned theatrical releases. Some have been continually delayed, waiting for the time when they might be successful at the box office again. Others have dropped movies on a streaming service they also own. Finally, projects have sold movies to other platforms to make what money they can off it now. WarnerMedia, however, took the boldest step, in announcing that every movie that had been set for theaters in 2021, everything from Godzilla vs. Kong to Dune, would also debut on HBO Max at the same time. And now one exec is reflecting on that controversial choice.
This decision was met with a wide variety of responses. On the one hand, it was potentially great news for consumers who might have wanted to see these movies, but were not willing, or simply not able, to actually see them in theaters. It was good new for HBO Max, as it gave people a real incentive to subscribe to the service which had, by most accounts, had a lackluster launch.
However, many filmmakers took issue with the decision. Christopher Nolan called HBO Max the "worst streaming service" and WarnerMedia was criticized, largely because this decision had been made with little or no warning to the other studio or filmmakers. CEO Jason Kilar recently admitted to Vox that the announcement did not go as hoped, and that, if given a second chance, things would have been handled differently. According to Kilar...
There’s no doubt that it was bumpy back in early December of last year. If I had the chance to do it over again, I think it’s very fair to say that we would have taken a couple more days to see if we could have had even more conversations than we were able to have.
There was a lot of backlash from within the industry to the HBO Max decision. Legendary, the studio behind both Godzilla vs. Kong and Dune went as far as to threaten that it might pursue legal action. And while that didn't happen, and Kong recently debuted on HBO Max as planned, the fate of Dune is still unclear. Director Denis Villeneuve was one of the first, and most outspoken, against moving the film to streaming.
Clearly, CEO Jason Kilar still supports the overall decision to move things to HBO Max this year, he reiterated that in 2022 movies will shift back to theatrical first releases. But he admits that the way the decision was handled could have been done better. There were a lot of issues to deal with, including how various people involved in the productions would get paid without box office numbers.
To be fair, so far, the idea seems to have worked. despite being available on HBO Max, Godzilla vs. Kong had a solid box office opening, which would seem to indicate that when given the choice, people will still go to theaters.