The pandemic is on the verge of taking out the last major tentpole holdout of 2020.
Wonder Woman 1984 — originally slated for early June before being bumped to October 2 and then again to Christmas Day, due to the ongoing Coronavirus scourge — is now on the verge of seeing its holiday plans canceled. That, or possibly abridged.
With a new COVID-19 wave sweeping the country and much of the world, the likelihood of enough theaters being open in six weeks to launch a global franchise entry like Wonder Woman 1984 appears to have vanished. Out of necessity, Warner Bros. has begun to re-strategize.
Here’s what they’re thinking. One of two possibilities:
- Keep the exclusive theatrical release date of December 25, 2020, opening where possible, then launching Wonder Woman 1984 worldwide on HBO Max as early as mid-January.
- Remain dedicated to a full theatrical run, but delay the traditional release until Summer 2021.
The best news here: there will be a theatrical run, regardless.
If it remains on December 25, not all cities will have their theaters open to screen it, but it’s better than nothing. (Still, that’s small consolation to the residents of those closed cities.)
Holding to Christmas would also give the industry another test to see how ready the public is (or isn’t) to return to movie theaters if major blockbusters are playing there.
As an advocate for the theatrical experience, I’d rather see Warners go with Option 2, a full theatrical run in Summer 2021. We’ve waited this long, we can wait longer, and the filmmakers have earned it (if for no other reason than having single-handedly saved the DCEU after it was floundering in the wake of Batman V Superman).
The question is: can Warner Bros. wait that long?
Unlike Disney (which has been quick to shift major titles to Disney Plus), Warners doesn’t have theme parks currently closed-down indefinitely or other major corporate assets bleeding reserves, so they may not need to rush a cash infusion as much as Disney has.
Even so, HBO Max is lagging behind the astronomical subscriber numbers being enjoyed by Netflix and Disney Plus. They’re doing well at 34.6 million, so they’re not struggling, but Disney Plus boasts double that count (having just crossed 70 million) and Netflix over 5 times as much (with 182 million worldwide). Having Wonder Woman 1984 to lure new members would do a lot for that bottom line.
Still, at its budget, Wonder Woman 1984 was built to aim for a worldwide $1 billion haul. The only release strategy that could hope to reach that goal would be to delay until summer when (hopefully) it can be rolled out globally under more normal conditions. (The likelihood of a vaccine just boosted the argument for patience, too.)
But if Warners opts for Option 1, it means they’re willing to accept Wonder Woman 1984 as a financial loss, and that the greater benefit is to boost the HBO Max platform while also gauging what their broader theatrical strategy should be moving forward.
For now, we’ll simply have to wait and see.