Top U.S. Exhibitors Respond to Warner Bros. Abandoning Theatrical Exclusivity in 2021

The Cinemark San Antonio 16 theatre, located at 5063 NW Loop 410, features “the best seat in town” with new Luxury Lounger reclining seats, expanded food and beverage offerings and more. (Photo: Business Wire)

Several exhibitors have responded to Warner Bros.’ recent announcement that their entire 2021 slate will debut day-and-date in theaters and on HBO Max. It’s a release strategy previously announced by the studio for their Christmas release of Wonder Woman 1984, coming out as Covid-19 numbers continue to rise across the U.S.. 

The expansion of Warner Bros.’ simultaneous release strategy to all their 2021 films means tentpoles including Judas and the Black Messiah, Tom & Jerry, Godzilla vs. Kong, Mortal Kombat, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, In The Heights, The Suicide Squad, Dune, and Matrix 4 will—in an unprecedented move for a major studio—debut in cinemas without theatrical exclusivity of any kind.

Two points that emerged in responses from top U.S. circuits are consternation over the timing of Warner Bros.’ announcement—on the heels of positive news about an upcoming Covid-19 vaccine, which could see the theater industry begin to recover—and the need for continued discussions with Warner Bros. about the theatrical releases of their films.

Adam Aron, CEO and President of AMC Entertainment, acknowledged in a statement that “these coronavirus-impacted times are uncharged 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 to be at its height.” 

“However,” he added, “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.”

In a statement sent to Boxoffice Pro, Cineworld/Regal—with operations in the US and the UK, all currently suspended—also expressed a sense of encouragement over “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.”

Without making reference to any specific decisions regarding whether or how to play upcoming Warner Bros. titles, Cinemark—third-largest exhibitor in the U.S.—noted that “in light of the current operating environment, we are making near-term booking decisions on a film-by-film basis. At this time, Warner Bros. has not provided any details for the hybrid distribution model of their 2021 films.”

Aron, for his part, says that AMC has entered into “an immediate and urgent dialogue with the leadership of Warner on this subject.” He continues:

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….

As this issue gets sorted out, we are nonetheless encouraged that vaccines protecting society at large against the coronavirus are very much at hand. So, it is our expectation that moviegoers soon will be able once again to delight in coming to our theatres without any worry—viewing the world’s best movies safely in our big seats, with our big sound and on our big screens.

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