LOS ANGELES: Warner Bros will release its entire 2021 slate of movies on HBO Max streaming and in theatres simultaneously, including The Matrix 4 and Dune, the studio announced on Thursday in a landmark response to the pandemic.

The announcement comes as Hollywood scrambles to cope with the reality of theatres closed across much of the United States due to Covid, and sees one of Tinseltown’s biggest studios shatter the traditional “window” in which blockbuster movies are available only on the big screen at release.

“Talk about living through the biggest theatrical earthquake the industry has ever seen,” said Jeff Bock, senior analyst for industry tracker Exhibitor Relations.

“The pandemic has accelerated this process at warp speed, and facing an unknown marketplace from a box office standpoint in 2021, Warner’s made an extreme pivot that may forever change the theatrical industry,” he said.

The decision, which immediately sent shockwaves through the movie industry, follows Warner’s previously announced move to release Wonder Woman 1984 on Christmas Day via its streaming platform at the same time as the big screen.

Industry analysts had widely expected that gamble to be a one-off, at least until its success or failure could be assessed.

Thursday’s announcement means that strategy has already been extended to at least 17 titles, including the much-anticipated Sopranos prequel The Many Saints of Newark, and DC superhero sequel The Suicide Squad. “We’re living in unprecedented times which call for creative solutions,” said Warner Bros chair and CEO Ann Sarnoff in a statement.

“No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do. We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theatres in the US will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021.”

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2020

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