Warner Bros: UK cinemas react to studio's move to release 2021 films on streaming service HBO Max

All of Warner Bros’ 2021 releases, including Wonder Woman 1984, will arrive on its HBO Max streaming service at the same time as in cinemas in the US. Credit: Warner Bros

All of Warner Bros’ 2021 releases – including blockbusters like Dune, Matrix 4 and The Suicide Squad – will arrive on its HBO Max streaming service at the same time as in cinemas in the US.

On Thursday, Warner Bros said the new "day-and-date" model is a one-year plan and a response to the “unprecedented times” of the health crisis.

HBO Max is not yet available in the UK, but Head of HBO Max Global Andy Forssell has said it will be expanding into Europe during the second half of 2021.

Where the UK sits in this plan is unclear, but if Brits get HBO Max in 2021, the national cinema industry could face yet more difficulties.

The sector has been hit hard by government Covid-19 restrictions and the decision by many film studios to push back release dates of blockbuster films.

In response to Warner Bros announcement, Cineworld was keen to stress cinemas are "the best place to watch a movie”.

  • Sci-Fi epic Dune is part of Warner Bros' "day-and-date" plan

It said the impending Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine rollout will enable its cinemas in the US and UK to "make a great comeback".

When this time comes, Cineworld believes Warner Bros will look to reach an agreement about a window (the average gap before home release) 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 [January 2021] in order to offer our customers, as always, the best place to watch a movie,” it said in a statement.

Meanwhile, UK cinema chain Vue ruled out any participation in Warner Bros day-and-date model.

  • Warner Bros had previously announced that Wonder Woman 1984 would be available on HBO Max at the same time as in US cinemas

"Whilst we are continually exploring the windows model and are always open to new ways to optimise it, we are not discussing any day-and-date windows like those being proposed in the US," it said. 

"The pandemic is forcing all of us to adapt, but we remain as confident as ever in the long-term relevance of cinemas."

Oliver Meek owns Rio Cinema, an independent outfit in London. He echoes the belief that there will always be a demand for the big screen. However, he also feels that increased streaming is the future.

To Oliver, Warner Bros announcement was a "bombshell", but one that doesn't come as a huge surprise.

"I have been expecting that to happen for some time," he said.

"Streaming has become huge. Some of the big film companies now have their own streaming platforms and cinemas have been closed for six months, so that was always going to be part of the progression."

Vue, Cineworld and Rio remain outwardly optimistic. However, with the industry already reeling from delayed releases and a huge drop in ticket sales, a UK day-and-date model will surely pose a serious challenge. Will it be a challenge the UK industry can weather? Cinema fans will have wait until next year for the resolution.