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Every Warner Bros. movie will be an HBO Max movie in 2021

The studio announces a radical change for the movie business

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Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides and Rebecca Furguson as Lady Jessica Atreides stand in the desert on the set of Denis Villenueve’s Dune. Photo: Chiabella James for Vanity Fair
Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

When will movie theaters get back to normal? Even as news of COVID-19 vaccines makes the current situation more optimistic, the answer is still a huge unknown — and a huge update from Warner Bros. Pictures makes that clear.

On Thursday, the Warner Bros. Pictures Group announced that the company’s 2021 slate of films will all arrive via a new hybrid release model. Based on the broad announcement, movies slated for the upcoming year will hit theaters worldwide while also receiving a simultaneous one-month streaming run exclusively on HBO Max. In November, Warner Bros. announced a similar strategy for Wonder Woman 1984: The film will debut on Christmas Day in U.S. theaters and on HBO Max.

Currently, Warner Bros.’ 2021 film slate includes The Little Things, Judas and the Black Messiah, Tom & Jerry, Godzilla vs. Kong, Mortal Kombat, Those Who Wish Me Dead, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, In The Heights, Space Jam: A New Legacy, The Suicide Squad, Reminiscence, Malignant, Dune, The Many Saints of Newark, King Richard, Cry Macho and The Matrix 4.

Warner Bros. said in a news release that the hybrid model is a “strategic response” to the impact of the ongoing global pandemic, primarily in the United States. And like the current plans for Wonder Woman 1984, following the one-month HBO Max access period in the U.S., “each film will leave the platform and continue theatrically in the U.S. and international territories, with all customary distribution windows applying to the title.”

“We’re living in unprecedented times which call for creative solutions, including this new initiative for the Warner Bros. Pictures Group,” said Ann Sarnoff, CEO of WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, 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 theaters in the U.S. will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021. With this unique one-year plan, we can support our partners in exhibition with a steady pipeline of world-class films, while also giving moviegoers who may not have access to theaters or aren’t quite ready to go back to the movies the chance to see our amazing 2021 films. We see it as a win-win for film lovers and exhibitors, and we’re extremely grateful to our filmmaking partners for working with us on this innovative response to these circumstances.”

The announcements noted that all films will be available in 4K and HDR on HBO Max.

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