HBO Max has been in the news a lot recently, for all the wrong reasons. First, Warner Bros. Discovery decided to completely shelve two projects, the Batgirl movie and animated Scooby-Doo film, Scoob: Holiday Haunt, despite the fact that both were well into production. Now it looks like there’s a lot of other content that we won’t be seeing on HBO Max, at least not when we expected. It appears the decision has been made to delay some theatrical films release on the service, including Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis.
Warner Bros. was one of the first studios to put together a new plan for theatrical distribution during the pandemic that would see all movies hitting HBO Max 45 days after they debuted in theaters, following the decision to release the WB 2020 slate day and date on HBO Max. However, that decision was made under the previous regime at WB, and according to sources at Decider, the new bosses have decided to handle HBO Max releases on a “case by case” basis. So while some films might still start streaming 45 days after release, not all of them will.
The first casualty of this new plan is Elvis starring Austin Butler as the King of Rock and Roll, and Tom Hanks as his manager Col. Tom Parker. The film was set to hit HBO Max next week under the old plan, but it has now been removed from the schedule. While it has been confirmed that Elvis will arrive on HBO Max at some point, no new release date has been announced.
Needless to say, this sucks for anybody that was looking forward to watching Elvis on HBO Max, and really just anybody that subscribed to HBO Max because of the expectation they would be able to watch theatrical releases quickly on the service. At this point, this is one of the selling points of the service.
While it’s potentially understanding why WBD might want to hold of on releasing some movies on HBO Max, if they’re successful at the box office, the studio isn’t going to want to undercut that by releasing the movie at home too soon, the fact is that most studios followed suit after WB made this move. Universal also handles Peacock releases on a case by case basis, but Disney has released everything, from Lightyear to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which grossed nearly $1 billion worldwide, right around that 45 day window.
Clearly, a lot is changing at Warner Bros. under the new management and it’s going to be a while before the dust settles and we have a good handle on what things will look like going forward on both the theatrical and streaming side of things. Perhaps it will only be the rare movie that takes longer than 45 days to hit HBO Max, or perhaps most of them will now be delayed. If the movies make more in theaters and on VOD/Blu-ray by doing this, and the loss in HBO Max subscriptions is minimal, then it looks like what appeared to be the “new normal” may just go back to the way it used to be.