Cinemas have been dealt another major blow as Warner Bros revealed it will release all 2021 films on its streaming platform and in movie theatres on the same day.
The studio previously announced it would release Wonder Woman 1984 on HBO Max and in cinemas on Christmas Day, but will now extend this to its full slate of films next year.
The move puts additional pressure on the already COVID-struck cinema industry, which has had to close its doors to the public this year as people stayed at home to curb the spread of the virus.
Warner Bros said the plan was in response to the "unprecedented times" of the outbreak, and that the company needed to find “creative solutions”.
Ann Sarnoff, chair and chief executive of WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, said: “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.
"With this unique one-year plan, we can support our partners in exhibition with a steady pipeline of world-class films, while also giving moviegoers who may not have access to theatres, or aren't quite ready to go back to the movies, the chance to see our amazing 2021 films.”
She added: “We see it as a win-win for film lovers and exhibitors, and we're extremely grateful to our filmmaking partners for working with us on this innovative response to these circumstances.”
Under the plan, films such as the new Matrix sequel, Dune and The Suicide Squad, will only show on HBO Max for a month but will continue to be shown in cinemas. HBO Max is not yet available in the UK.
Odeon owner AMC said it was in “urgent talks” with the studio. It accused Warner Bros of subsidising HBO Max by its move: "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."
A number of blockbuster films such as Marvel’s Black Widow, Disney’s Mulan and the latest movie in the James Bond franchise No Time To Die, faced delays this year.
The 25th Bond film was initially due to be released in cinemas in April 2020 but was then pushed back until November. Beverly Hills-based MGM later postponed it until April next year.
Meanwhile, Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan was released on the company’s streaming service instead of in cinemas earlier this year. The film debuted in September at a cost of $29.99 (£22.31) per customer, and only played in theatres in countries that did not have launch plans for Disney+.
In October Cineworld (CINE.L), Britain’s biggest cinema chain, announced plans to temporarily close its doors in the UK and its Regal cinemas in the US, on the back of the film delays. The move affected around 45,000 staff, including cleaners and security personnel.
Cineworld shares fell 15% on Friday in reaction to Warner Bros’ statement.
A month later cinema operator Everyman Media Group (EMAN.L) appointed financial advisers to help steer it through talks with landlords as it reels from the devastation caused by coronavirus.
The company has drafted in FTI Consulting to help it in talks during the coming months.
Everyman, which has a total of 35 sites and still plans to open eight more, raised £17.5m ($23m) from a share placing in April in an attempt to strengthen its balance sheet.
Everyman chairman Paul Wise said in a letter to staff in October that the coronavirus pandemic had created a “temporary shortage of available work” and there was a need to “lay off 400 of our venue team members across the estate”.
“By making use of lay off, we are able to avoid considering further redundancies at this time and keep more people in employment,” the letter said.
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