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Wonder Woman to the rescue (of theaters)

Warner Bros. and theaters hope the superhero sequel will be their Christmas miracle

Gal Gadot in a scene from Wonder Woman 1984 Associated Press/Photo by Clay Enos/Warner Bros Pictures

Wonder Woman to the rescue (of theaters)

Merry Christmas, cinephiles. Warner Bros. announced last week it will release the much-anticipated sequel Wonder Woman 1984 on Dec. 25 in U.S. theaters and on the streaming platform HBO Max. Because of pandemic-induced theater closures, Warner Bros. repeatedly delayed the film’s opening, originally scheduled for last summer. It will debut in international theaters on Dec. 16.

To support cinema chains and independent theater owners, studios typically don’t release big-budget movies for streaming until they’ve had long theater runs. But Ann Sarnoff, chairwoman of WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, said the company wants to give viewers venue choices they are comfortable with during the pandemic while helping theaters and those who worked to create the film stay afloat financially.

Warner Bros. is probably also taking a hint from this summer. Its theater-only release of the $200 million spy thriller Tenet performed poorly in the United States, though it grossed about five times more—almost $300 million—overseas. Many U.S. theaters had already closed, and COVID-19 kept people home.

Disney took its live-action remake of Mulan directly to its streaming platform, skipping theaters entirely. The company hasn’t revealed how many subscribers paid the extra $29.99 to watch the film. Streaming platform analytics company Antenna said new Disney+ subscribers made up only about 4 percent of Mulan’s premium on demand rentals in the opening weekend. The film version of the Broadway musical Hamilton also went straight to Disney+ in July, but it’s unclear if that decision generated more profits than waiting for a 2021 theater run.

AT&T owns Warner Bros. and HBO Max, which trails Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ in subscriber numbers. Offering the potential mega-hit Wonder Woman 1984 for a month at no extra cost with a $15 monthly subscription could prove irresistible bait for new subscribers. HBO Max also just reached an agreement with Amazon to offer its service on Amazon Fire, one of the country’s most popular streaming TV devices.

Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins tweeted she was glad fans would have the choice: “Watch it IN THEATERS, where it is made safe to do so … And available in the safety of your home on HBOMAX.”

Theater owners, experiencing decreased revenues and potential insolvency during shutdowns, now welcome the unusual viewing options for Wonder Woman 1984. Adam Aron, AMC Entertainment CEO, said he was fully on board with Warner Bros.’ plans and the company is “open to evolving long-standing business models.” That’s an about-face from earlier this year when the chain refused to show any Universal Pictures films after the studio released Trolls World Tour to streaming platforms before theaters.

Wonder Woman 1984, rated PG-13, reunites Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman with Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) as she faces foes Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) and Cheetah (Kristen Wiig). The movie cost $200 million to produce and will cost millions to market. The 2017 Wonder Woman movie cost about $150 million to make and garnered more than $800 million in global box office sales. More than 4 million people saw that film on opening day. WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar said he’ll be watching Christmas Day numbers at theaters and online to see if Warner Bros. can gain as many viewers again. That would be a real holiday gift for a beleaguered industry.

Sharon Dierberger

Sharon is a correspondent and reviewer for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Northwestern University graduate. She has served as a university teacher, clinical exercise physiologist, homeschooling mom, businesswoman, and Division 1 athlete. She resides in Stillwater, Minn., with her husband, Bill.


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