“Wonder Woman 1984” was widely expected to be one of the biggest films of the year, with a good shot at making $1 billion globally. Then the coronavirus pandemic broke out. Now, the film will settle for becoming the biggest debut in the history of streaming.
Warner Bros.’ sequel to the popular 2017 superhero film “Wonder Woman,” is going to HBO Max next month, the studio announced on Wednesday, showcasing the service’s vital importance to its parent company (and CNN’s), WarnerMedia.
The film will be released simultaneously in theaters and on the streaming service in the United States on December 25. It will debut in international markets on December 16.
The film will be available for a month on HBO Max in the United States at no additional cost to subscribers. Once “Wonder Woman 1984” leaves the service, it will continue to play in theaters. After that, the film will become available via video on demand, digital rental and for purchase.
The boldness of WarnerMedia’s choice to put “Wonder Woman 1984” on HBO Max as well as theaters cannot be understated. The film, which stars Gal Gadot and Chris Pine, is a part of DC Entertainment, one of the most important brands under the Warner Bros. banner. Wonder Woman is one of the the studio’s most popular and lucrative characters with the prior film in the series making more than $800 million worldwide.
To put the highly anticipated sequel on the streaming platform is a pretty clear sign that HBO Max is the focal point of WarnerMedia’s future and current business.
The service, which houses content from WarnerMedia’s brands, including HBO, DC and Warner Bros., has found success, bringing in more than 8 million activations since its launch in May. But it is looking to add fresh content that would be alluring to new customers. “Wonder Woman 1984” is just that.
With the film premiering on the new service, as well as theaters, WarnerMedia is attempting to have the best of both worlds by appeasing its partners in the theatrical marketplace as well as potentially boosting subscribers to the service, which keeps investors happy.
The choice to put the film on HBO Max also comes after “Wonder Woman 1984” has been delayed multiple times. The film could have still made a lot of money if the studio decided to move the film to next year and open it just in theaters, but with the theatrical landscape in flux it’s hard to say how much the film could have made.
And Warner Bros. has already been down this road. The studio released Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” over the summer as theaters began to reopen. The twisty thriller failed to find an audience domestically as cases continued to spread in the United States.
The film fared well overseas bringing in nearly $300 million. Now, however, the pandemic is growing around the world and international markets may not be as solid as they once were.
So putting “Wonder Woman 1984” on HBO Max, even for just one month, is a blow to exhibitors, which are desperate for new and exclusive films they can play in their theaters. Yet, it gives HBO Max, a service that WarnerMedia’s parent company AT&T (T) has invested billions in, the chance to grow and become a powerhouse alongside rivals like Netflix (NFLX) and Disney+.
“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,” Ann Sarnoff, CEO of WarnerMedia studios and networks group, said in a statement. “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.”
Jason Kilar, the CEO of WarnerMedia, wrote in a blog post on Wednesday that there were several factors in the company’s decision: the pandemic; being supportive partners to the cast and crew of the film; and “our belief in the theatrical experience and, to that end, the importance of exhibitors.”
Kilar also mentioned fans of the film, which is “where important decisions like this should always start and should always end” and noted that choosing between viewing the film in theaters versus on streaming is “your decision to make.”