How Warner Bros.’ HBO Max Experiment Led to Mixed Box Office Results

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2021 Box Office Report Card: Warner’s top execs stand by their day-and-date experiment that saw a surge in streaming subscribers but little success in theaters

warner bros. 2021 box office
Photo illustration by TheWrap (Warner Bros.)

At the start of 2021, Warner Bros. was the talk of Hollywood for its decision to start a year-long experiment that would come to define its box office performance: The legacy studio would release 17 films simultaneously in theaters and on its nascent screaming service, HBO Max — though none finished in the top 10 top-grossing films of the domestic box office.

The experiment proved to be a double-edged sword. While Disney, Sony, Universal and even MGM found big blockbuster success in spite of the pandemic, HBO Max likely put a ceiling on Warner’s ticket sales. Only two of the studio’s films grossed over $100 million in North America — “Godzilla vs.