Warner Bros.’ HBO Max Move May Be ‘Nail in the Coffin’ for Struggling Movie Theaters

Uncertainty over COVID-19 recovery led the studio to release films simultaneously in theater and on streaming, but could this change moviegoing habits forever?

Warner Bros. shocking decision to release all of its 2021 films on HBO Max and in theaters simultaneously may have been prompted by unprecedented circumstances — the coronavirus pandemic that has shut down theaters worldwide, with full reopening postponed to some distant future. But what Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff called a “unique one-year plan” is creating fear of permanent changes to movie theaters that have been under strain even before this year.

“It’s a nail in the coffin for theaters who have been vulnerable for a long time — you are witnessing the single biggest blow to cinema since COVID-19,” the Patriarch Organization CEO Eric Schiffer told TheWrap, noting that WarnerMedia parent AT&T “has made a business decision that the traditional movie experience is less important” than growing the company’s six-month-old streaming platform.

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Jeremy Fuster

Jeremy Fuster

Box Office Reporter • jeremy.fuster@thewrap.com