The entire Hollywood industry has been shaken up by the covid-19 pandemic, but perhaps the studio that’s made some of the most drastic changes has been Warner Bros., rapidly pivoting to a day-and-date home release model for the entirety of 2021. The studio has made it clear that’s just for this year only—but even in 2022, things will still look different.
The Hollywood Reporter notes that, as part of an announcement detailing the re-opening of Regal Cinemas in the United States, the theater chain’s owners (Cineworld Group, who also operates a chain with the same name in the UK) struck an exclusive distribution deal with Warner Bros.’ 2022 slate.
In the U.S., Regal locations will begin re-opening to moviegoers in a limited capacity from April 2, 2021, screening Adam Wingard’s upcoming monster mashup Godzilla vs. Kong, before opening wider on April 16 with showings of Mortal Kombat. Cineworld Group’s Cineworld theaters in the UK will begin opening under guidance from the British Government sometime in May.
But the deal between Warner and Cineworld goes beyond that. In 2022, Warner Bros. movies will be distributed exclusively at Regal Cinemas for a 45-day window before distributing more widely, presumably either through on-demand services or at other theater chains. In the UK, Warner Bros. movies will exhibit at Cineworld theaters for a 31-day window, only moving up to the 45-day mark if the studio and Cineworld agree to certain box office thresholds.
Warner is not necessarily the first studio to look towards reduced times between theatrical and home releases going forward. Last month, Paramount announced a similar 45-day window, with a 30-day window in place for smaller films, before they’ll head to the recently-renamed Paramount+ streaming service. Meanwhile, Universal struck a deal with AMC and Cinemark for 17 days of theatrical exclusivity for Universal and Focus Features releases—rising to 31 days if the movie opens to $50 million or more—before becoming available on VOD platforms.
It’s clear that the ramifications of the covid-19 pandemic will be felt across the cinema industry for many months to come—likely years. These new windows are much, much shorter than the typical pre-covid-19 distribution windows, which were typically around 90 days. Even beyond 2021, as vaccination efforts across the world continue and moviegoers take a long, slow approach to returning to theaters after over a year of being able to access new movies from home, their eventual return will be to a sizeably changed cinema landscape.
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