AMC and Warner Bros. have struck a deal to have the studio’s movies stay exclusive to theaters for 45 days, instead of being immediately available digitally (via The Hollywood Reporter). The news was announced by AMC CEO Adam Aron during an earnings call, and it means that Warner Bros. won't be making its 2022 movies, which include The Batman and Sesame Street, available at home (or on HBO Max) until just over six weeks after they’re released in theaters.
Warner Bros. already had a similar deal in place with Regal Cinemas’ owners, but today’s news truly seems to herald the end of the streaming experiment the studio was trying out in 2021. While HBO Max may not be getting movies the same day as theaters anymore, things aren’t exactly going back to the way they were pre-pandemic: theaters used to lay exclusive claim to movies for between 75 and 90 days, which is much longer than the deals being struck now. Streaming is also clearly still a focus for Warner Bros. AMC said on the call that “all Warner Bros. films” in 2022 would have the exclusivity window, but WarnerMedia’s CEO has said HBO Max would be getting 10 exclusive films next year.
Warner Bros. isn’t the only studio negotiating to bring back theater exclusives. AMC and Universal have worked out a deal as well, which allows for as little as a 17-day exclusivity window, and Disney, along with Paramount, will be doing a 45-day window, too. Most of those studios have their own respective streaming services to look after and sell, but theaters still seem to be important to the movie business. During the call, AMC said it has an “active dialogue with every major studio” about theater exclusivity windows.
Aron said on the call that the theater chain “was not at all happy” when Warner Bros.’ plan was to have its streaming and theater releases happen on the same day. The theater chain wasn’t alone in its angst. Directors like Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049, Dune) and Christopher Nolan (Tenet, Inception) all but declared same-day streaming to be the end of cinema.
Actors, whose pay can be tied to box office performance, were also unhappy about day-and-date streaming releases, with Scarlett Johansson suing Disney over Black Widow’s release. With actors, filmmakers, and theaters going against them, it’s not hard to see why studios are considering going back to the old way of releasing movies (if with shorter windows).
Also mentioned in the earnings call was a spate of new theaters and acquisitions — AMC says it’ll be opening about a dozen new theaters across the globe, as well as acquiring a handful of unspecified theaters from the Arclight / Pacific chain, which announced that it wouldn’t be reopening after COVID earlier this year. Good news if you want to see a movie as soon as it's publicly available.