Warner Bros. stunned fans by announcing that all of its upcoming 2021 films will land on the HBO Max streaming service the same day as the respective theatrical releases. The movies include Dune, Space Jam: A New Legacy and Will Smith's King Richard. Fans will have the opportunity to watch him portray Richard Williams, the father of Serena and Venus Williams, at their homes.
According to early reports, King Richard will be about the true-life story of Williams, which will also star Saniyya Syndey and Demi Singleton as Venus and Serena, respectively. Jon Bernthal (The Punisher) and Liev Schrieber (Ray Donovan) both play tennis coaches. Schrieber will portray Paul Cohen, a tennis instructor who worked for John McEnroe and Pete Sampras. Dylan McDermott also joined the project, albeit in the role of a fictional sports agent.
King Richard originally had a release date of Nov. 25, 2020. However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the studio to delay its release. The new date is Nov. 19, 2021, on both HBO Max and in theaters.
"We're living in unprecedented times which call for creative solutions, including this new initiative for the Warner Bros. Pictures Group," said Ann Sarnoff, Chair and CEO of WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, in a press release. "No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do. We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theaters in the U.S. will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021."
Sarnoff continued and explained that this change is a "unique" one-year plan. She said that the company could support its partners with a steady stream of films. Although Sarnoff explained that this strategy would give "moviegoers who may not have access to theaters or aren’t quite ready to go back to the movies the chance to see our amazing 2021 films." She said that this situation is a "win-win" for film lovers and exhibitors.
While some fans expressed excitement about this change and the opportunity to watch Smith as a tennis coach in short shorts, AMC Theaters expressed unhappiness about the situation. Adam Aron, CEO and President of AMC Entertainment, specifically released a statement expressing opposition to the decision by Warner Bros.
"These coronavirus-impacted times are uncharted waters for all of us, which is why AMC signed on to an HBO Max exception to customary practices for one film only, Wonder Woman 1984, being released by Warner Brothers at Christmas when the pandemic appears that it will be at its height," Aron said in the statement. "However, Warner now hopes to do this for all their 2021 theatrical movies, despite the likelihood that with vaccines right around the corner the theatre business is expected to recover." He continued and said that Warner Bros. intends to "sacrifice a considerable portion of the profitability of its movie studio" to subsidize HBO Max.