It’s only been a couple of days but the film industry is still reeling from the news that Warner Bros. is going to release “Wonder Woman 1984,” a potential billion-dollar film, in theaters and on HBO Max on the same day this Christmas. It’s an unprecedented move that has a lot of moving parts that allowed for WB to collapse the theatrical exclusivity window and allow fans the option of staying home instead of trekking to their local cinema during the pandemic. And while this seems like the worst-case scenario for theater owners, the Independent Cinema Alliance (ICA), thinks this is the move that might “save” them.
Deadline is reporting that the Independent Cinema Alliance (ICA), an organization that represents independent theater owners in North America, believes keeping “Wonder Woman 1984” in cinemas this Christmas (even though it’s also going to be available on streaming) is just what the doctor ordered for an industry that seems on the brink of collapse.
“The film’s ‘pandemic model’—which does not reflect a long-term, formal shift in the studio’s distribution strategies—will ensure that moviegoers across North America will see ‘Wonder Woman’ in theaters and help save the day for our cinemas this Christmas,” said ICA in a statement.
This is a pretty telling statement, all things considered. First, there’s no mention of HBO Max and how the fact that folks can watch the film essentially for free (with the price of subscription or a free trial), which seems like an intentional oversight meant to downplay that aspect of the decision. However, the most telling word in the statement is how WB’s plan will “ensure” that people see the film in theaters. That’s technically true, but also a bit misleading. There will be people that pay to see it in theaters, for sure. However, to somehow make it seem as if there will be lines out the door at independent cinemas to see “Wonder Woman 1984” this Christmas is probably optimistic, at best, and delusional, at worst.
“We are extremely grateful for the extraordinary and unrivaled support and leadership from our valued industry partner Warner Bros.,” said Byron Berkley, ICA President. “After boldly launching the Labor Day reopening of movie theaters across the country with their release of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet,’ Warner Bros. has again shown their unwavering commitment to theatrical exhibition by virtually saving Christmas for our industry, keeping ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ on December 25th.”
There’s no denying that WB, more than any other studio, has put it on the line for theaters in North America. Disney, Paramount, and most others have either pushed films to streaming platforms or delayed them into 2021 or beyond. Universal has kept theatrical releases going over the past couple of months but only under new rules that let the studio drop films on PVOD only 17 days after debuting, which is hardly a “win” for theaters.
But in this era where theaters have lost all their leverage and studios hold all the cards, beggars can’t be choosers, right? And even though the ‘WW84’ deal seems completely anti-theater, by undercutting the paid theatrical experience by offering the option of free at-home viewing, it would appear theater owners are so desperate for good news, they’re willing to spin anything they can into a win.
“Wonder Woman 1984” will debut in theaters and on HBO Max on December 25.