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With most studio tentpoles still being regularly delayed and shifted down the calendar, Warner Bros. is one of the few studios actually in a pretty secure spot when it comes to its 2021 releases. Now, its showing off a bit more from those should-be blockbusters.
For the entirety of 2021, the studio will simultaneously release its biggest movies (about 20 in total) in theaters and on HBO Max. To get audiences pumped for its robust slate, WB has released a mega-trailer with fresh footage from projects like Tom & Jerry (Feb. 26), Godzilla vs. Kong (March 31), Mortal Kombat (April 16), Space Jam: A New Legacy (July 16), The Suicide Squad (August 6), Dune (Oct. 1), and Reminiscence (release date TBD). The fourth Matrix movie (Dec. 22) is also among the bunch, and while there is no teaser footage to view just yet, the trailer does seem to confirm the sequel's official title. In true reboot fashion, it looks like The Matrix 4 will simply be called Matrix.
Since it was first announced in early December 2020, Warner Bros.' revolutionary strategy hasn't been well-received by some of its filmmaking collaborators like Denis Villeneuve (Dune) and Christopher Nolan (Tenet). Villeneuve, who is still championing an exclusive theatrical release for Dune, penned an entire op-ed against it for Variety, while a recent Wall Street Journal article purported that Nolan is looking to possibly end his nearly two-decade partnership with the studio.
Despite the pushback, WB was arguably fairly savvy to make such a shocking move. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on and vaccines slowly roll out across the world, nothing about the moviegoing experience is certain at this time. Just recently, MGM pushed No Time to Die for the second time, and Sony decided to postpone Morbius, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and Uncharted. Marvel Studios' Black Widow and Universal Fast & Furious 9 are about the only big features still on the docket for the late spring/summer season, but those could be moved as well if things don't turn around within the next couple of months.
For instance, rumors are floating around that Black Widow could even follow Mulan and Raya and the Last Dragon in terms of a dual opening in theaters and on Disney+ (for an added "Premier Access" fee, of course).
“We felt like we had a little bit of a spoiling asset that needed to be used more effectively,” AT&T chief John Stankey said Wednesday, referring to WB's accumulated logjam of completed films. He described the hybrid model for 2021 as "a bold and aggressive swing.”
But of course, getting those movies out via a hybrid release is also risky, since your big screen profits will be hobbled by the pandemic — though the studio is also pushing more subscribers to its upstart streamer with some A-list content. So, it could arguably be seen as an investment in the future of HBOMax, since it's one of the few (if not the only) streaming service offering up true blockbuster films at the moment. While on the other side of the coin, most other studios are delaying that potential tentpole revenue to a time when the theatrical experience is (hopefully) back up to its usual margins.
Which is the smarter bet? Only time will tell.
(Universal Pictures and SYFY WIRE are both owned by NBCUniversal)