Last Christmas Eve, The Information’s Jessica Toonkel predicted that “2020 will be the year that a major studio, most likely Disney or AT&T’s WarnerMedia, breaks the mold and debuts some movies on its streaming service before they show up in theaters.” At the time it seemed a daring forecast, but then Covid happened, forcing the closure of theaters and keeping people at home. On Thursday, WarnerMedia announced it would release all of next year’s films on its HBO Max streaming service at the same time they are shown in theaters.
At first glance, Warner’s decision appears to signal a major realignment for Hollywood, which long relied on theaters for the initial release of movies. In recent months, studios such as Universal have released some films on streaming services earlier than usual, but no one has gone this far. Coming on the same day that theater chain AMC Entertainment warned that if its efforts to raise $800 million fail, it may have to file for bankruptcy, the announcement suggests the old way of seeing a movie may be dying.