The world of blockbuster movies looks wildly different than it did a year ago, with many studios having to delay or readjust their major releases due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest – and arguably the biggest – film to try to do the latter is Wonder Woman 1984, with Warner Bros. announcing late last week that it would be debuting the film on Christmas Day, both in theaters that are able to safely open and on the HBO Max streaming service. The move has already courted a fair share of speculation (particularly from those worrying about it being a slippery slope in the theatrical blockbuster world, which is a conversation that is still way too early to have), and more questions will surely pop up as the film’s release draws near. But one possibility has popped up in the days since the Wonder Woman 1984 announcement — how it could help cement HBO Max as a viable part of the streaming service landscape.
Although it’s less than six months old, HBO Max has been the subject of quite a lot of discourse, both positively and negatively. The $14.99 per month price tag, unnecessary confusion surrounding its relationship to HBO itself, and its roster of original programming at launch all seemed to dominate the conversation — which unintentionally drew away from the positive things about the service. HBO Max arguably boasts one of the most comprehensive and wide-ranging libraries of content on a single streaming service, with the existing HBO catalog being joined by a rotating array of content from DC Comics, Turner Classic Movies, Cartoon Network, and Crunchyroll, as well as more ’90s sitcoms and Lord of the Rings installments than viewers might know what to do with. While the variety of its library has been a paramount part of HBO Max’s initial marketing campaign, the number of subscribers has been nowhere near what some were expecting.
To an extent, some of that might be due to the fact that HBO Max’s original titles – while largely high-quality – haven’t yet captured the zeitgeist the way that other streaming services have. Launch titles such as Looney Tunes Cartoons and Legendary did find their audience, but were far from being household names. Even Ridley Scott’s Raised by Wolves, which was arguably the biggest Max Original yet, was arguably a little too niche to reach a widespread mainstream audience. For better or for worse, no HBO Max original has yet to hit the notoriety that Disney+ has had with The Mandalorian, or that Netflix had with its initial crop of original titles. The Mandalorian, in particular, has turned firing up Disney+ into a communal and exciting experience, as viewers are eager to see what plot twists are introduced or what new cute thing Baby Yoda does next. While it obviously wouldn’t be a weekly event, Wonder Woman 1984 being on HBO Max could easily capture some of that communal magic and anticipation, and the sense of not wanting to be spoiled about its epic fight scenes and jaw-dropping character moments. WarnerMedia executive Jason Kilar basically argued as much in the initial announcement of Wonder Woman 1984‘s hybrid release, saying that the number of fans who could check out the film on opening day could be promising.
“While we will pay attention to theatrical revenues, our expectations are clearly adjusted due to COVID-19,” Kilar said in part. “In parallel, we will be paying close attention to the numbers of families and fans diving into HBO Max, as we certainly anticipate that a portion of fans will choose to enjoy Wonder Woman 1984 that way on opening day and beyond. To provide a comparable, a little over four million fans in the U.S. enjoyed the first Wonder Woman movie on its opening day in 2017. Is it possible for that to happen again this Christmas with Wonder Woman 1984 between theaters and HBO Max? We are so excited to find out, doing everything in our power to provide the power of choice to fans.”
Given the fact that Wonder Woman 1984‘s marketing campaign has gone on for almost a year now, and the title has been highly anticipated by general audiences for that same amount of time, there’s already enough hype surrounding the film to draw new subscribers to HBO Max. That’s especially the case when you look at the circumstances of the past ten months, as nearly every action blockbuster has been delayed into 2021 and beyond. And while the film is set to only be on the service for one month, that’s more than enough time for a lot of new subscribers to watch the film within the free 7-day trial — and to check out the impressive amount of additional content in HBO Max’s arsenal. Between that existing library and the top-tier content headed to HBO Max in the months and years ahead, including the Snyder Cut of Justice League, multiple live-action DC shows, and other high profile movies and series, there is more than enough to make subscribers want to stick around.
As mentioned above, Wonder Woman 1984 will be released in select theaters on Christmas Day, as well as on HBO Max.