With a second wave of COVID-19 impacting many parts of the globe, Wonder Woman 1984 is changing course yet again.
The tentpole is all but giving up on a traditional theatrical release and will instead bow in whatever cinemas remain open Dec. 25 as well as stream on HBO Max in the U.S. for one month beginning on Christmas Day. In international markets where HBO Max is not available, the film starts rolling out Dec. 16.
“At some point you have to choose to share any love and joy you have to give, over everything else,” director Patty Jenkins said in a statement Wednesday. “We love our movie as we love our fans, so we truly hope that our film brings a little bit of joy and reprieve to all of you this holiday season.”
Jenkins urged audiences to watch the $200 million tentpole in theaters where it was safe to do so, and on HBO Max where it is not. In a note echoing Jenkins, star Gal Gadot added, “It wasn’t an easy decision and we never thought we’d have to hold on to the release for such a long time but COVID rocked all of our worlds.”
Growing the number of HBO Max customers is of huge import to TimeWarner, even if it means giving up on potential box office ticket sales that Wonder Woman 1984 would have earned had it been pushed to sometime in 2021. The hope is that a high-profile Christmas Day title such as the superhero sequel will lure new subscribers (HBO Max is pricier than most other streamers, at $15.99 a month).
WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar seemed to be laying out expectations in a blog post Wednesday in which he noted that roughly 4 million people watched the first Wonder Woman in the U.S. on opening day in 2017. “Is it possible for that to happen again this Christmas with Wonder Woman 1984 between theaters and HBO Max?” Kilar asked. “We are so excited to find out, doing everything in our power to provide the power of choice to fans.”
Keeping some semblance of a theatrical release on Christmas Day also provides comfort for cinemas who are open at the time, whether domestically or internationally. Many hundreds of theaters across the U.S. and Europe are reclosing amid a surge in COVID-19 cases. At the same time, the China and Japan box office have rebounded in a major way.
In normal times, theater chains would never carry a major studio tentpole that was debuting simultaneously at home. But in this case, all bets are off. Cinema owners have plenty of good will toward Warner Bros. after the studio stuck to a late-summer release date for Christopher Nolan’s tentpole Tenet despite the challenges facing the box office amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“Movie fans across the United States, Europe and the Middle East will be excited to learn that the release of Wonder Woman 1984 this holiday season is right around the corner, and that AMC will show this eagerly awaited movie on our big screens all across our global network,” said Adam Aron, CEO and president of AMC Entertainment, of showing the movie in the venue’s nearly 1,000 theatres in the U.S. and abroad.
“For many months, AMC has been in active and deep dialogue with Warner Brothers to figure out how best this cinematic blockbuster could be seen at AMC Theatres in these unprecedented times. Given that atypical circumstances call for atypical economic relationships between studios and theatres, and atypical windows and releasing strategies, AMC is fully onboard for Warner Brothers’ announcement today.”
Wonder Woman 1984 reunites director Jenkins with star Gadot, and is a follow-up to the 2017 blockbuster that earned $821.8 million at the worldwide global box office.
The sequel has seen its theatrical release date delayed several times because of the pandemic. Originally, it was supposed to open in June. Most recently, the plan was for a full-blown global theatrical rollout on Dec. 25.
“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, CEO of WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group. “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.”
Added Warner Bros. Pictures chairman Toby Emmerich: “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.”
Below is Kilar’s full memo to staff.
Today we announced that Wonder Woman 1984, the eagerly anticipated tentpole film by Patty Jenkins — with Gal Gadot and Chris Pine reprising their roles as Diana Prince and Steve Trevor — is going to be released in theaters on December 25th. In the United States, we will also be making this remarkable movie available on HBO Max at no extra cost the same day that Wonder Woman 1984 premieres in theaters, for the first month of the film’s release.
For a movie of this scale, this is unprecedented. Given that, we wanted to share some context.
There are many things that factor into a decision like this:
• The pandemic.
• Our belief in the theatrical experience and, to that end, the importance of exhibitors.
• Our mission to be strong and supportive partners to Patty, Gal, producer Chuck Rovner and the entire Wonder Woman 1984 team.
• And finally, the fans, which is where important decisions like this should always start and should always end.
We are, of course, in an extraordinary moment. 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. 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.
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. 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.