The discussion at Warner Bros. follows Universal’s plan to distribute Trolls World Tour directly on streaming platforms.
With movie theaters closed across the globe for an indefinite period of time, Warner Bros. was discussing whether to take its upcoming DC Comics tentpole movie Wonder Woman 1984 directly to streaming platforms and bypass theaters altogether.
The preliminary discussions have remained close to Warner Pictures Group Chairman Toby Emmerich and his top advisers, according to one individual with knowledge of the conversation. Even director Patty Jenkins and executive producer Charles Roven were not brought into the release discussion as of this writing.
According to the Warner Bros. source, their preference is to release the movie theatrically — but some executives are considering a streaming alternative, probably as a direct-to-consumer offering rather than as part of Warner’s soon-to-launch subscription service HBO Max. The concern, the insiders said, is that there is no known date for movie theaters to reopen and there may be a shortage of favorable dates once theaters do come back online for the many films that have been postponed.
Roven and Jenkins would like to see the movie hit theaters this August, one insider said, but with so much uncertainty, Warner executives wonder if that is a realistic possibility amid a pandemic that has upended Hollywood and threatens to have long-term repercussions for many industries.
Sticking to the theatrical release date of June 4 may be some really radical wishful thinking on the part of the Warner Bros. studio execs. The ramp curve of the progress of the COVID-19 coronavirus is currently showing no signs of leveling off in the United States or anywhere else (except possibly China), so the chances that the theaters will actually be open for anything needing a June release are still pretty slim. Warner Bros. is rolling the dice with this one.
Analysts have questioned whether video on demand could generate the kind of revenue — and profits — that studios typically see from the theatrical release of blockbusters like a “Wonder Woman” sequel. Patty Jenkins’ 2017 original grossed $822 million based on a budget between $120 million and $150 million. There are not yet financial models that would allow the studio to compare the outcome of two distribution systems for a film with a budget of close to $200 million. But there are other Pay Per View (PPV) events.
The most profitable PPV event in U.S. history was the Mayweather-Pacquaio fight in 2015, which grossed $400 million from 4.4 million buys, charged at $90 per buy. It’s hard to imagine moviegoers even paying $30-$40 for a new release, so home video would be unlikely to come close to the fight’s revenue. Let alone $1B.
Wonder Woman has developed into an incredibly successful franchise for Warner, and catapulted Gadot to international stardom, not to mention a symbol of feminine heroism. Set during the late height of Cold War tensions, the sequel sees Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) come into conflict with the Soviet Union and encountering a new enemy, the villain Cheetah (Kristen Wiig). The film brings back Jenkins as director and co-write along with Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian) has also been cast in the film.
Studios are scrambling to anticipate, or recoup, losses caused by quarantine measures. On Sunday night, both Los Angeles and New York announced the shuttering of all non-essential public spaces, and that included movie theaters. Other cities have followed swiftly as the coronavirus has now reached every state in the country.
I love seeing movies in a theater and see streaming as a different medium, but COVID-19 could force the convergance of streaming and theatrical to reach a peak during this next few months.