Six weeks before “Wonder Woman 1984” is scheduled to open in theaters on Christmas, Warner Bros. execs are considering whether to push the highly anticipated superhero sequel to the summer of 2021, or keep the movie on its Dec. 25 theatrical debut and then put it on the HBO Max streaming service in early January, according to sources with knowledge of the plans.
The fate of the highly anticipated superhero film has been in limbo since the COVID-19 pandemic first hit in March, pushing the film’s theatrical release from June 5 to Aug. 14, then to Oct. 2, and finally to Dec. 25. But with COVID-19 cases spiking at alarming rates across the country, Warner Bros. is facing the the specter of another widespread shutdown, especially in major urban areas that drive the vast majority of the theatrical business. A cursory theatrical release could still support exhibitors on the knife’s edge of collapse, while also boosting subscriber growth for HBO Max, which has struggled to build an audience large enough to compete against Netflix, Amazon, and Disney Plus.
In its third quarter, WarnerMedia reported that HBO Max had 8.6 million total activations, with 38 millions subscribers to HBO and HBO Max combined. While that exceeded expectations for the year, HBO Max still trails its competitors by considerable margins. Placing a triple-A blockbuster like “Wonder Woman 1984” would be the biggest draw yet for the service, which hasn’t had a hit on par with “Hamilton” for Disney Plus or “The Old Guard” for Netflix. Considering that Disney’s stock price went up on Thursday after announcing 73 million Disney Plus subscribers through Q4 — despite also reporting a $710 million loss — it seems prudent for WarnerMedia to be laser-focused on driving growth for HBO Max.
“Wonder Woman 1984,” however, was supposed to be a billion-dollar grossing global sensation; any theatrical release next month would pale in comparison, a lesson the studio already learned the hard way with “Tenet.” With news that a COVID vaccine could be ready to disseminate through the first half of 2021, Warner Bros. brass are still considering pushing “Wonder Woman 1984” back into a summer release date, possibly in June (bumping a New Line Cinema horror title) or July (bumping the new “Space Jam” movie with LeBron James).
Pushing the theatrical release yet again was always a possibility for “WW84.” In a September interview with Variety about “WW84” costar Pedro Pascal, co-writer-director Patty Jenkins made clear that COVID was ultimately driving her movie’s fate.
“I don’t think anybody can be confident of anything right now,” Jenkins said. “We just don’t know what the course of COVID is going to be like.”
One thing that is pretty clear is that “WW84” will not skip theaters entirely. Jenkins has made no secret that she designed her movie for a big screen and feels strongly that it deserves to be seen there. And while a Warner Bros. representative declined to comment on “speculation” regarding the future of “WW84,” they did have one clear statement: “‘WW84’ will be in theaters.”
Bloomberg first reported the possibility of an HBO Max release for “WW84.”