When the news was announced that WarnerMedia planned on releasing its entire Warner Bros. 2021 film slate simultaneously on HBO Max and in theaters, people were shocked. Never had a studio made such a big move in destroying the theatrical exclusivity window before. And not only is WB doing it for “Wonder Woman 1984,” but also some of the most anticipated blockbusters of the next year, such as “Godzilla vs. Kong” and “Dune.” But it’s those latter two films that might be involved in a legal battle between WB and the studio’s producing partner, Legendary.
According to Deadline, Legendary (the company that co-produced and co-financed “Dune” and “Godzilla vs. Kong”) is reportedly going to send legal letters to WarnerMedia challenging the release of its two upcoming films on HBO Max the same day as theaters. Apparently, the crux of the argument is that WarnerMedia made this decision without consulting Legendary (who reportedly funded approximately 75% of the production budgets of the films) and without including the option of going to third-party alternatives such as Netflix.
The report claims that Legendary had begun talks with Netflix for “Godzilla vs. Kong” and the streaming service was offering $250 million for the film but WarnerMedia blocked the deal. Instead, Legendary said that WarnerMedia decided (without consulting the other studio) to release “Godzilla vs. Kong,” as well as Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” on its own HBO Max. And the numbers for that deal aren’t known now.
You won’t be surprised to know that the disagreement here stems from money, as it’s unclear what type of losses WarnerMedia is willing to accept by releasing the film on streaming. This new deal seems to cause issues with “backend” deals with filmmakers and cast members that would have earned them bonuses based on box office performance. With “Wonder Woman 1984,” it’s being reported that WarnerMedia is paying out bonuses based on the idea that the film would have earned $1 billion. But it’s unclear what the studio is doing for “Godzilla vs. Kong” and “Dune,” where the potential box office is unknown.
Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that “Dune” and “Godzilla vs. Kong” will be removed from the planned HBO Max schedule, as WarnerMedia probably wouldn’t have announced those features without some sort of guarantee that they wouldn’t have to worry about legal challenges. That said, it will be interesting to see what the fallout of this decision means for WarnerMedia in its relationship with partnering production companies and filmmakers.