Warner Bros.’ long-delayed Wonder Woman 1984 will open simultaneously on domestic cinema and television screens on Christmas Day, the highest-profile studio film to ever break the theatrical exclusivity window. The film’s overseas theatrical release will begin a week earlier, on December 16.
“As we navigate these unprecedented times, we’ve had to be innovative in keeping our businesses moving forward while continuing to super-serve our fans,” said Ann Sarnoff, Chair and CEO, WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, which includes Warner Bros. Pictures. “This is an amazing film that really comes to life on the big screen and, working with our partners in the exhibition community, we will provide that option to consumers in the U.S. where theaters are open. We realize that a lot of consumers can’t go back to the movies due to the pandemic, so we also want to give them the option to see Wonder Woman 1984 via our HBO Max platform.”
Warner Bros. will make the film available to home entertainment audiences in the United States exclusively through HBOMax at no additional cost to subscribers. Notably, it will only be accessible on HBOMax during the first month of its release.
“We appreciate how patient audiences have been and given the great anticipation around Wonder Woman 1984 we are grateful to be able to make this terrifically entertaining movie widely available in these challenging times,” said Toby Emmerich, Chairman, Warner Bros. Pictures Group.
The news comes as cinemas in some regions of the United States, and across key European markets, face additional closures and restrictions due to a rise in Covid-19 cases. The studio cited the pandemic, its support of exhibitors and support of the film’s producers, and fan anticipation as its primary reasons for the day-and-date debut.
The shrinking theatrical exclusivity window has emerged as one of the biggest changes to theatrical distribution since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Traditionally, films have enjoyed a nominal 90-day-plus exclusivity window in the United States before being made available to the home.
The practice has been upended in recent months with major studios taking divergent approaches in distributing titles during the pandemic. Disney has shifted its top titles originally scheduled for 2020 to the following year, while abandoning theatrical altogether for films like Hamilton, Mulan, and Soul in favor of an exclusive home entertainment run on Disney+. Universal, on the other hand, has kept dates for several mid-range titles through the end of the year and agreed to shortened exclusivity windows with leading circuits AMC Theatres and Cinemark. The Universal model would give most titles released by the studio an exclusive run of 17-days (3 weekends) before being made available to the home through Premium Video on Demand channels.
There are currently no indications that the Wonder Woman 1984 day-and-date release is part of a larger change in Warner Bros.’ theatrical distribution strategy beyond the pandemic.
“We are, of course, in an extraordinary moment,” writes WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar in a blog post attached to the announcement. “This entails a patchwork of regulations, geographic considerations and, most importantly, fan preferences. With that in mind, we see an opportunity to do something firmly focused on the fans: give them the power to choose between going to their local cinema or opening on HBO Max. Super-fans will likely choose both. This incredible movie will be available both ways in the U.S. on the exact same day. If you are fortunate to live in a place where theaters are open, we believe we are offering a great option given the Cinema Safe protocols our partners have put in place. With this, exhibitors are offering a movie-going experience with social distancing, masks, cleaning and ventilation protocols. On the other hand, if you and your family prefer to stay in and make your own popcorn this holiday, we want to share the experience of Wonder Woman 1984 with you the exact same day on HBO Max. It’s your decision to make.”
“We are committed to the theatrical experience and we believe giving exhibitors a movie of this nature is important right now,” he continues.
“We believe in theaters because hundreds of millions of fans around the world value going to the movies. And for as long as fans seek out the theatrical experience, we will be there to serve them with great movies in partnership with exhibitors. Collectively, the fans get to decide these things, as they should.”
“Getting back to Wonder Woman 1984, we believe this decision will bring several benefits. The first and most important benefit is to the fans in the form of unprecedented choice from day one. The second benefit is to the exhibitors, providing an eagerly anticipated movie at a much-needed time while they take precautions in their operations. Finally, we believe that our creative partners and ourselves will benefit from this decision, in the form of fan response both theatrically and via HBO Max in the U.S.,” writes Kilar.
“I find it fascinating that we will be measuring the performance of this movie in an entirely new way. To use a line from The Wizard of Oz, we’re not in Kansas anymore,” he continues. “While we will pay attention to theatrical revenues, our expectations are clearly adjusted due to COVID-19. In parallel, we will be paying close attention to the numbers of families and fans diving into HBO Max, as we certainly anticipate that a portion of fans will choose to enjoy Wonder Woman 1984 that way on opening day and beyond. To provide a comparable, a little over four million fans in the U.S. enjoyed the first Wonder Woman movie on its opening day in 2017. Is it possible for that to happen again this Christmas with Wonder Woman 1984 between theaters and HBO Max? We are so excited to find out, doing everything in our power to provide the power of choice to fans.
Many of us could use an uplifting story this holiday season. We think we have that and more in WW84. We believe audiences are going to love every minute of this great movie this holiday season and we are looking forward to sharing it in this unprecedented way.”