Warner Bros. Brass Reaffirm Commitment to Theatrical Movies

Ann Sarnoff and John Stankey - Getty - Split - H 2020
Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images; Jim Spellman/WireImage

Studio chief Ann Sarnoff and her boss, WarnerMedia chief John Stankey, issued statements late Wednesday clarifying comments made to investors.

Warner Bros. late Wednesday reaffirmed the studio's commitment to the cinematic experience in hopes of clearing up confusion over comments made to investors by WarnerMedia boss John Stankey earlier in the day about the future of the theatrical model.

"We are committed to — and are excited about — releasing Tenet in theaters this summer or whenever theaters reopen. We remain supportive of the theatrical experience and our exhibition partners, and are confident that our tentpole titles, including Tenet and Wonder Woman 1984, are exactly the type of films that will have people eager to return to theaters," Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter.

Stankey also weighed in, saying in his own statement to THR: "Theatrical films have always been a major part of the our ecosystem. I fully expect that as we evaluate our business going forward, we will continue to champion creative work that is worthy of the theatrical experience.”

During an investors call earlier in the day, Stankey addressed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in theater closures and production delays, along with a surge in streaming and on-demand entertainment viewing in the home.

"This experience will change many things, including customer behaviors and expectations. We're evaluating our product distribution strategy, re-looking at volumes and the required support levels we need in a down economy. We're rethinking our theatrical model and looking for ways to accelerate efforts that are consistent with the rapid changes in consumer behavior from the pandemic," the exec added. "Now our focus is on defining and leveraging the new normal across all of our operations."

Stankey referenced Tuesday's announcement that Warner Bros.' Scoob! won't wait for theaters to reopen. Instead, the animated family film will be made available for rental in the home on May 15, the movie's original theatrical release date.

His remarks could have been taken out of context, according to box office analysts. Case in point: Warner Bros. has otherwise delayed the rest of its high-profile movies so that they can play in theaters once cinemas reopen, beginning with Christopher Nolan's Tenet on July 17.

Nolan is a passionate advocate of seeing films on the big screen, and his upcoming pic is the only July release that has stuck to its original schedule.

Also in the near future, the studio is also planning to bow Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman 1984 on Aug. 14 (the superhero sequel was originally set to fly into theaters in early June).

Hollywood's current hope is that cinemas will begin turning the lights on by late June in order to ramp up for Tenet and Disney's Mulan on July 24.

Aside from Scoob!, the only other studio effort to scrap a theatrical release and go straight to on-demand is Universal and DreamWorks Animation's Trolls World Tour. Sources say both family films had a major merchandising component that made a delay difficult.

Scoob! will be available to rent and purchase for $19.99 and $24.99, respectively, on May 15. Stankey said the family pic will subsequently be given an exclusive run at some point on HBO Max, the new subscription service set to launch in late May.

“The theatrical business is obviously a stressed business right now. When theaters are closed, it's hard to generate revenue. And don't expect that that's going to be a snap-back," Stankey told investors, adding: "I think that's going to be something that we're going to have to watch the formation of consumer confidence, not just about going to movies, just in general about being back out in public and understanding what's occurring there."