Good news, puddin’! Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey will be released early on VOD as theaters across the country shut their doors amid the coronavirus pandemic. Fandango reports that both Birds of Prey and the Matthew McConaughey movie The Gentlemen will be available for digital purchase on March 24 — 46 days and 60 days after each film hit theaters.
Typically, films become available for digital purchase about 74 days after they debut in theaters, and available for digital rental two weeks later. That’s an 88-day traditional window, but in this particular case, both Birds of Prey and The Gentlemen have seen their theatrical runs cut short due to widespread theater closures.
Warner Bros. is still weighing what to do with its Ben Affleck drama The Way Back, which could also hit VOD early now that major theater chains like AMC Theatres and Regal Cinemas have fully shut down after initially limiting audience capacity during the film’s second weekend. WB came to its Birds of Prey decision mere hours after director Cathy Yan wrote on Twitter that she wasn’t opposed to an early VOD release while millions of Americans are quarantined inside their homes.
Warner Bros. and The Gentlemen distributor STX were clearly emboldened by Universal’s decision to make The Hunt, The Invisible Man and Emma available on streaming this coming weekend. Those three films, all of which were released well after Birds of Prey, will cost $19.99 for a 48-hour rental. That’s less than it would cost me to purchase a pair of tickets for my girlfriend and I at just about any first-run theater in Los Angeles, so not only is it convenient, but it’s also cheaper.
Some industry reports have called Universal’s decision a game-changer that breaks the traditional theatrical window, but I respectfully disagree. Yes, Universal has always been out in front when it comes to trying to collapse windows. They planned to charge people $59.99 to watch Tower Heist from the comfort of their own homes on the same day it hit theaters. Ultimately, that experiment never happened due to complaints from exhibitors, but this situation is a far cry from that one. There has to be a theatrical window for a studio to break it. With movie theaters closed for the next 6-12 weeks, the theatrical window simply does not exist. Studios are left with no choice but to embrace the only window left and make their films available to stream at an elevated price point. That makes financial sense for low-budget movies like The Hunt and The Invisible Man. It doesn’t make any sense for a big-budget movie like F9, which is why Universal delayed that tentpole a full year rather than send it to VOD. Because streaming numbers wouldn’t support that kind of move. There’s too much money at stake for a movie like F9 to forgo a theatrical release. The same goes for Disney’s Mulan, which has been delayed indefinitely. You can expect Marvel’s Black Widow to follow.
Warner Bros. did not respond to a request for comment on Monday night, and Variety reports that Birds of Prey will only be available for purchase on March 24, and won’t be available to rent until April — unlike Universal’s three films, which seem to only be available for rent.