Wonder Woman 1984 was watched by half of HBO Max’s subscribers on Christmas. With theater attendance dwindling due to the ongoing COVID pandemic, the movie industry in 2020 was forced to embrace VOD and streaming more than ever before, speeding up the already inevitable process of shrinking theatrical windows and making home viewing an even more attractive option for fans of blockbuster movies.
Things started getting serious shortly after the onset of COVID, as movie studios began delaying big releases, hoping to still get them in theaters after the passing of the pandemic. The first big studio to somewhat give in was Disney, who elected to release their would-be blockbuster Mulan on their own service Disney+. Then late in the year came the bombshell announcement that Warner Bros. was also bowing to the realities imposed by COVID and would release the delayed summer tentpole film Wonder Woman 1984 on WarnerMedia’s HBO Max at the same time it arrived in theaters. This move was followed by the even more earth shattering announcement that further WB blockbusters like The Suicide Squad, The Matrix 4 and Dune would receive the same treatment. This decision of course led to major pushback from filmmakers, with everyone from Christopher Nolan to James Gunn to Denis Villeneuve decrying what they characterized as an insult to directors.
It remains to be seen whether Warner Bros.’ plan to release their biggest movies at home at the same time they arrive in theaters will ultimately work out, but at least one big hurdle seems to have been cleared, as home audiences fully embraced the opportunity to watch Wonder Woman 1984 without having to brave COVID-ravaged theaters. As reported by THR, almost half of HBO Max’s direct subscribers watched the movie on Christmas, the day it arrived, together with millions more who get the service through their cable or wireless packages. Total viewing hours tripled on Christmas compared to a normal day for the streamer according to WarnerMedia.
WarnerMedia executive Andy Forssell understandably gushed about the performance of the first big DC movie to hit HBO Max under the new plan, saying “Wonder Woman 1984 broke records and exceeded our expectations across all of our key viewing and subscriber metrics in its first 24 hours on the service, and the interest and momentum we’re seeing indicates this will likely continue well beyond the weekend.”
As for the theatrical side of things, box office performance for Wonder Woman 1984 was predictably nowhere near what it would have been in a typical year with no at-home option, but the movie still managed to enjoy the biggest COVID-era opening yet with $16.7 million in estimated domestic grosses over the three day weekend. It’s impossible to guess what those box office numbers would’ve been without HBO Max offering the film, but it’s safe to say a fair number of people ended up watching the movie at home who would have gone to see it in the theater even under COVID restrictions.
No matter what filmmakers like Nolan and others may think of the HBO Max option, it seems to have been a success for Warner Bros. so far, which is really no surprise given the financial and other realities hitting people at the current time. Wonder Woman 1984 and its big streaming bow are likely just the beginning of what is shaping up to be a revolution in the way people watch movies, and there’s no reason to think the streaming momentum will slow any time soon.
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