The Number 2 theater chain in the world has struck an exhibition deal with Warner Bros., the studio responsible for smashing the theatrical window in 2021 with its slew of same-day HBO Max releases – and it could mean the end of that controversial move on the studio’s part. Warner Bros. announced late last year that it would be releasing every single one of its 2021 new releases on HBO Max the same day that they hit theaters, for a limited time only (after 31 days, the film is no longer streaming on HBO Max and follows a traditional home video release schedule). This announcement rankled many and caused Christopher Nolan, one of WB’s most loyal filmmakers, to lash out against the studio and HBO Max.
With vaccine distribution surging, people are ready to go back to the movies, and Regal Cinemas announced today that it plans to reopen theaters in the United States on April 2nd in a limited number of locations, followed by more locations on April 16th. Those dates coincide with big Warner Bros. releases – first Godzilla vs. Kong then Mortal Kombat on April 16th – and indeed Regal and Warner Bros. have struck a multi-year deal that will change radically in 2022.
For now, Regal will agree to show Warner Bros.’ films even though they will be streaming on HBO Max the same day they hit theaters. But starting in 2022, Warner Bros. has agreed to give its new releases 45 days of exclusive theatrical engagement at Regal before putting them on the HBO Max streaming service.
This is likely the first of many similar deals WB will strike with other theater chains, and it certainly appears as though when movie theaters return, the new normal will be a 45 day window. Before the pandemic, theater chains held fast to a 90-day window of theatrical exclusivity before a film was eligible to go on streaming or VOD. If a studio insisted on putting its new release on a streaming service before those 90 days were up, many theater chains refused to show it (see: Netflix’s Roma and The Irishman).
But now Paramount Pictures has announced its intention to release some of its new releases on its newly launched streaming service Paramount+ 45 days after they hit theaters, including Mission: Impossible 7 and A Quiet Place Part II. And last summer Universal Pictures struck an agreement with AMC Theaters to allow its movies to be available on PVOD (On Demand at a premium rental price) a minimum of 17 days after they hit theaters.
The theatrical window is shrinking, but it’s not gone entirely, and Warner Bros.’ willingness to move back to a 45-day window in 2022 is a good sign for filmmakers who want their films seen on the big screen. After all, we didn’t just spend a year locked inside watching every movie in our living room because we wanted to. People are going to flock back to movie theaters over the next few months, and despite ready availability on HBO Max, I have a feeling the box office receipts for Warner Bros. movies this summer are going to be very strong.
Still, there’s no going back. The pandemic changed the theatrical window forever, and while 45 days is half the normal theatrical window, it’s certainly better than no window at all. So look forward to seeing films like The Batman and The Flash and Aquaman 2 only in theaters.