The Controversy Behind Warner Brothers’ Decision

The pandemic has been very hard on all of us. For the movie industry, it hit like a hurricane: theatres closed down, productions were interrupted, and many lost their jobs. After more than half a year of living in the crisis and having to delay the release of many movies, Warner Bros, a division of AT&T, has decided that every film scheduled for 2021 would be released both in theatres and on streaming platform HBO Max for a period of 31 days (Lussier). Though it is a very beneficial way for the viewers to watch new movies by staying home and not paying for a theatre ticket or waiting until its release on a streaming platform, this decision has a lot of impact on directors, theatres, and the whole movie industry. 

Some of the movies figuring on this list are Wonder Woman: 1984, Dune, The Suicide Squad, and Matrix 4, which are some of the most anticipated films of 2021. It is important to state that this decision only applies to the United States. Therefore, only US residents can benefit from this decision. The problem is that since not everybody has access to both the platform and theatres, those anticipated movies will not receive the same success they could have had without the pandemic (Labuza). 

Another problem with this decision is that HBO Max is much less popular than others like Netflix, Crave, Amazon Prime, and Disney Plus. Before its launch in May 2020, HBO Max was expected to become the most popular streaming platform. Unfortunately, with its lack of “brand-defining” shows like Netflix’s Stranger Things and Dinsey Plus’ The Mandalorian, HBO Max was taking a significant risk. Plus, this streaming service is only available in the United States, limiting the accessibility to viewers in other countries. (Labuza)

Of course, this decision made many people worry about the future of cinema and movie theatres. Following Warner Bros’ announcement, Denis Villeneuve shared his opinion in an article in Variety: “I learned in the news that Warner Bros has decided to release “Dune” on HBO Max at the same time as our theatrical release, using prominent images from our movie to promote their streaming service. With this decision, AT&T has hijacked one of the most respectable and important studios in film history. There is absolutely no love for cinema, nor for the audience here.” He then explained that “Dune” is the best movie he ever made, and his team “devoted more than three years of [their] lives to make it a unique big-screen experience. [The] movie’s image and sound were meticulously designed to be seen in theaters.” Although he admits that streaming platforms are a very positive thing both for the economy and the environment, he firmly believes that streaming alone cannot sustain the film industry the way it was before the pandemic. Following this claim, he declares that he knows public health comes first, which is why he delayed his movie release to October 2021, hoping theatres would be open by then.  

Despite the darkness the industry is going through, Denis Villeneuve ends his article with a glimmer of hope: “I strongly believe the future of cinema will be on the big screen, no matter what any Wall Street dilettante says. Since the dawn of time, humans have deeply needed communal storytelling experiences. Cinema on the big screen is more than a business, it is an art form that brings people together, celebrating humanity, enhancing our empathy for one another — it’s one of the very last artistic, in-person collective experiences we share as human beings.” Although this change is temporary and only applies to 2021, the future of cinema as we know it is facing a significant danger. Hopefully, by 2022, theatres will all be open, and people will enjoy the “going to the movies” experience again.”


Labuza, Peter. “HBO Max isn’t the future of movies – but it is a panicked plan.” Polygon, 4 Dec. 2020, hbo-max-2021-warner-bros-releases-movie-theaters-vs-streaming. Accessed 9 April 2021. 

Lussier, Marc-André. “Tous les films de Warner Bros. simultanément sur HBO Max.” La Presse, 3 Dec. 2020, tous-les-films-de-warner-bros-simultanement-sur-hbo-max.php. Accessed 8 April 2021. 

Villeneuve, Denis. “‘Dune’ Director Denis Villeneuve Blasts HBO Max Deal.” Variety, 10 Dec. 2020, dune-denis-villeneuve-blasts-warner-bros-1234851270. Accessed 11 April 2021. 

By Justine Filion


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