‘Wonder Woman’ and HBO Max; Are theaters in danger?

Wonder Woman to release on HBO Max. Photo courtesy of  Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

I love going to the movie theater. I mean who doesn’t? You are with your friends or family on opening night, going to see the latest movie with an audience just as excited as you are with none of the distractions from home. It’s all really great, but suddenly, 2020 kicked in.

Because of COVID-19, movie theaters have been struggling to stay in business with everyone staying home and the newest movies getting delayed left and right. However, some films have either gone straight to streaming services like “Trolls World Tour” and “Scoob!,” or had very limited theatrical releases like “Tenet.” The latest film to follow one of these trends is “Wonder Woman 1984,” the sequel to the 2017 original.

It was announced on Wednesday, Nov. 18 that the film will be releasing on HBO Max, Warner Bros. streaming service this Christmas. Unlike Disney’s live-action “Mulan” which also debuted on streaming, there will be no extra cost to consumers who are already subscribed to HBO Max. But there is a catch, WW84 will still have a release in theaters on the same day, with international markets having it on Dec. 16, according to CNN.

Now do I think what’s happening with WW84 is a good idea? Well, it’s complicated. But to have more of an insight on this topic, I interviewed one of the mangers of my local Emagine theater, Jeremiah Young.

“Towards the beginning of our second shutdown, we started seeing an increase and a steady flow of people beginning to return,” said Young. “We were continuing to add showtimes or move [showings] into bigger auditoriums to ensure we adhered to our social distancing rules.”

Because of no major studio film like WW84, the theater never had a test of their restrictions early on.

“It’s a fine edge sword,” said Young. “I understand the need for our industry to have WW84 … financially the industry needs it because most theaters have secured to the end of the year, the need of some sort of income will only help keep more doors open.”

He also stated that customer confidence is another factor to have WW84 releasing.

“To date there hasn’t been a major outbreak in our state, traced back to theaters,” said Young. “We are a Cinemasafe theater and with that our cleaning procedures, social distancing, mask wearing, etc. have been approved and refined since we first opened in March.”

If WW84 will be releasing in Young’s theater, I’m confident it will be more successful compared to something like “Croods 2,” even though it most likely won’t be by much.

“The other edge of the sword is in general all theater operators want to keep our guests as safe as possible and if that means shutting down until we can slow the spread, we will continue to do what is asked,” said Young.

Because of COVID-19 having many theaters shut down, many people -including myself- have gone towards streaming services.

“Streaming has not changed my theater at all,” said Young. “There are some titles that need to be watched on the big screen and some that can wait for streaming.”

Because of streaming services and COVID-19, people have speculated whether or not theaters will be around after COVID-19 is dealt with.

He then confessed that it is a troubling and scary feeling to have, especially during COVID-19. The feeling of shutting down either because of a global pandemic or just lack of interest from consumers struck a nerve, both with Young and me.

“Theaters have the chance to do something video stores didn’t, evolve,” said Young. “Video stores were so reluctant to change, with subscriptions instead of late fees, partnering with other businesses’, or delivering their versions of streaming options and they paid the ultimate price for it.”

Blockbuster in particular tried their hand at on-demand video and even had kiosks similar to Redbox, but both didn’t pan out well.

“Listen, you can drink cheaper at home but there are tons of bars in every town. From a small farming town to a major city … because bars are about experience and atmosphere,” said Young.

The whole argument between theaters and watching at home really boils down to a pick your poison. Do you want something more convenient or do you want a better experience?

“Theaters can call on the video rental store business failures by adding other entertainment options, customer experience, and dealing with shortened theatrical windows,” said Young. “The theater I work for added heated recliners, new cleaning procedures pre-COVID-19, a bar, a kitchen … , and axe throwing.”

Now with taking all of this into consideration, is “WW84” being in theaters a good idea? It’s still complicated. I agree with Young on many of the points he made; he not only gave understandable opinions, but gave insight that I initially didn’t consider like the financial side and how theaters need big blockbusters to gain not only profits to stay in business, but to have a line of trust with the customers.

I also agree with him on the customer experience, how you can’t really enjoy the biggest blockbuster or Oscar-worthy film without the atmosphere of minimal distractions and a large audience in a dark room. But I would be lying if I said movie theaters are THE BEST WAY to experience films. You can have customers that are rude and distracting or the prices for tickets and concessions can be questionable. Not only do you have home theater setups that are basically mini theaters, but you do have genres like comedies or dramas that don’t usually take advantage of the large screen and sound system that theaters have (there are some arguable exceptions but they’re not the majority).

Home theaters on the other hand, aren’t exactly ideal either. If you have highly active children or pets, that could often get in the way if you’re trying to focus on the film, I know that especially from personal experience. Do I get impressed and envious of the people who have these mini theaters in their homes? Absolutely, but I wish that was the majority and not the exception. I believe that the average household most likely can’t replicate a theater atmosphere without spending a pretty penny.

I personally think releasing “WW84” on HBO Max is a good idea because superhero fans would not be missing out and you would have a title that will probably give HBO Max a much-needed boost in subscribers, given their impressive catalog. I do understand the argument of big blockbusters like “WW84” not being specifically suited for home television streaming, but I’d like to argue that it is a necessary compromise for our current situation.

There are 350,862 COVID-19 cases in Minnesota alone, with 14,462,527 COVID-19 cases in the United States, as of Dec. 6. I believe with numbers like these, streaming services and watching movies from home must be necessary.

I do miss going to the theater and I had many movies in mind to watch there, but in a way, I am willing to protect the art form I love so much by potentially killing one of the major ways to enjoy it. Do I think theaters will still be viable after COVID-19? I honestly have no idea. Cases and deaths could still rise, and studios could just release their films on more readily available platforms like Netflix and HBO Max. That means films will possibly become neutered in how they take advantage of home televisions and theaters will possibly wither out like a flame on a candle. Potentially leaving thousands out of a job.

If by any chance that happens, I will be very sad. I’ve had many memories from going to the theater, from the audience hype of “Avengers Endgame” and “The Force Awakens” to the shared frustration with “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.” I sincerely hope that theaters will find some form of staying alive, even if that means less of them being around and I hope the next generation can experience the magic of theaters as I did.

On Dec. 3, Warner Bros. announced that their 2021 film lineup will also have an HBO Max and theatrical premiere like “WW8″4, including but not limited to: “Godzilla vs. Kong”, “Dune”, “Mortal Kombat” and “Matrix 4”.

According to Warner Media, these films will have a one-month exclusivity in the US and then will expand to the international markets afterwards. Like with “WW84” releasing, I think releasing these films on HBO Max is a safe bet. But I however, am extremely cautious at this idea. If Warner Bros releases all its 2021 films on HBO Max and it proves to be more profitable, who knows what kind of impression that can leave on other studios?

The state of theaters is arguably now in more danger than ever before, and I can either hope that they will be able to stay afloat or wait for the inevitable and see them fade away like a distant memory.

This article was updated at 4:15 p.m. on Dec. 7 to reflect new information.

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Myles Hoglund

Myles is a sophomore at St. Cloud State and is going for a major in film studies. He's also a member of the film-centered club called Cinescope. He hopes to become a film critic professionally like one of his personal idols, Roger Ebert. On top of reviews for the Chronicle, he also makes reviews on his personal Letterboxd account. So if you like his work here, give his Letterboxd a look.

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