By R.T. Watson and Joe Flint
AT&T Inc.'s Warner Bros. said Wednesday it will debut its highly anticipated "Wonder Woman" sequel simultaneously in theaters and on the HBO Max streaming service on Christmas Day. The move responds to both the crisis facing the movie business due to Covid-19 and the company's desire to attract consumers to its new digital platform.
For weeks, Hollywood's biggest parlor game in Hollywood has been speculating about Warner Bros. plans for "Wonder Woman 1984." Major studios have largely canceled plans to release high-profile films in theaters.
Warner Bros. may still be smarting from its decision to release its last big movie -- the science fiction thriller "Tenet" -- in the U.S., where it performed poorly as the coronavirus kept people home and many big city theaters closed.
At the same time, streaming services have grown in popularity as more people consume entertainment at home during the pandemic, amid lockdowns and social distancing. Putting the next "Wonder Woman" movie on HBO Max could give the new service a much-needed shot in the arm amid heightened competition. Walt Disney Co. took an even bigger swing at attracting new subscribers to its own streaming service when it exclusively released its $200 million "Mulan" remake on its Disney+ streaming service.
HBO Max is currently available in nearly 30 million pay-TV households. It also just reached an agreement with Amazon.com Inc. to stream the service through its various devices, which reach several million more consumers.
The service still trails Netflix Inc. and Disney+ in domestic subscribers, both of which have added millions of new subscribers recent months.
Warner Bros. said it had no plans to add a surcharge to HBO Max subscribers to watch "Wonder Woman 1984." WarnerMedia, the AT&T unit that is parent to both HBO Max and Warner Bros. may use the debut of "Wonder Woman" as bait to offer incentives for people to subscribe to the service, a person familiar with the matter said.
When Disney released "Mulan" on its service, it charged an additional $30 to view it. Disney hasn't said how many transactions "Mulan" generated. The studio has, however, chosen not to charge extra for the next high-profile release set to debut on Disney+, the upcoming Pixar movie "Soul," which will be available on Christmas Day.
Warner Bros. attempted to single-handedly revive the domestic theatrical industry in September, when it released the $200 million spy thriller "Tenet" in U.S. theaters despite multiplex closures in major coastal markets like New York City and Los Angeles. While the film scored respectable box-office returns abroad, grossing $297.4 million internationally, in North America it has limped to a paltry $56.3 million.
Outside the U.S., Warner Bros. is releasing "Wonder Woman 1984" on Dec. 16. The move provides a huge lifeline to international theater chains, according to Tim Richards, who runs the world's sixth-largest exhibitor, Vue International.
"If 'Wonder Woman' is released, we will reopen," Mr. Richards said on Wednesday before Warner Bros. made its announcement. Despite having reopened ahead of the release of "Tenet," the majority of Vue International's locations recently closed again as European governments issued a new round of lockdown measures aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.
Comcast Corp.'s Universal Pictures has also updated its distribution strategy to make some films available on premium online rental platforms, including Apple TV and Amazon's website, shortly after a theatrical release.
The studio recently struck agreements with leading theater chains AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. and Cinemark Holdings Inc. to make new films available online in as little as 2 1/2 weeks after a movie premieres in theaters. Traditionally, theaters have been granted exclusive rights for about 2 1/2 months.
With the agreements in place, Universal has committed to release more films to theaters than any other major studio, including the family film "The Croods: A New Age," which premieres over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Write to Joe Flint at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires