A metaphorical bomb was dropped yesterday in the world of the film industry. Though the bomb was not a real explosive, there has already been significant real-world damage to theater chains such as AMC Theatres, Regal Cinemas, and more, as WarnerMedia announced plans to release its entire 2021 Warner Bros. film slate simultaneously in theaters and HBO Max. After the announcement, stock prices tumbled for the major theater chains as people started to really see the writing on the wall—movie theaters are never going to be the same again. But the reaction from the theater chains hasn’t necessarily been as angry as you might expect.
When we talk about theater owner reactions, there are two major names we look for, AMC Theatres and Regal Cinemas, as they rank #1 and #2 in the United States. The first reaction was immediate and decisive from AMC Theatres’ CEO Adam Aron. You probably won’t be shocked to learn that he’s not too keen on this idea from Warner Bros. about blowing up the theatrical exclusivity window.
“These coronavirus-impacted times are uncharted waters for all of us, which is why AMC signed on to an HBO Max exception to customary practices for one film only, ‘Wonder Woman 1984,’ being released by Warner Brothers at Christmas when the pandemic appears that it will be at its height,” said Aron in a statement (via Deadline). “However, Warner now hopes to do this for all their 2021 theatrical movies, despite the likelihood that with vaccines right around the corner the theatre business is expected to recover.”
He continued, “Clearly, Warner Media intends to sacrifice a considerable portion of the profitability of its movie studio division, and that of its production partners and filmmakers, to subsidize its HBO Max start up. As for AMC, 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.”
To say that Aron sounds a bit terse in his reply is an understatement, huh? Clearly, he’s not too happy that Warner Bros. is going to focus its efforts on growing HBO Max in 2021 at the detriment of the theatrical experience. And who can blame him? His first and foremost concern is selling tickets to these WB films next year, as his theater chain fights to survive.
That same urgency isn’t necessarily expressed in the statement by Cineworld (the parent company of Regal Cinemas). The statement released by Cineworld (via Deadline) paints a more, uh, patient picture:
“Cineworld was aware of WB’s plan to release ‘Wonder Woman’ directly to its streaming service, which has been announced at a time when our cinemas remain closed in the US (Regal) and UK (Cineworld). We are very encouraged by the giant steps achieved recently with regards to the COVID-19 vaccination process, which is expected to be put in place earlier than previously anticipated. This will generate significant relief for our industry and enable our cinemas to make a great comeback. We believe that at such a time WB will look to reach an agreement about the proper window and terms that will work for both sides. Big movies are made for the big screen and we cannot wait to reopen our cinemas in Q1 in order to offer our customers, as always, the best place to watch a movie.”
For those wondering about Cinemark and the other theater chains, the #3 chain in the US did release a statement that effectively read “no comment.” So, we’ll have to wait for a more detailed response from that company. As for the mom-and-pop locations and the smaller chains, they’re normally represented by the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), and that organization has yet to release an official statement. However, judging by its reaction to the changes already in 2020, we can expect that NATO won’t be happy.
The truth is this—no one who owns a movie theater in the US is happy with the news from WB. Even if WarnerMedia touts its commitment to the theatrical experience and how this might benefit theater owners in 2021, there really isn’t any proof that it is true. We’ll see a clearer picture of what this new paradigm will mean after the release of “Wonder Woman 1984” on Christmas Day, which will be the first film to follow these new rules. But at the end of the day, if you’re a fan of the theatrical experience, the news continues to paint a grim future.