Warner Bros. stunned fans with the announcement that all upcoming movies would stream on HBO Max the same day as the theatrical release. This news created the expectation that Will Smith's upcoming tennis film, King Richard, would be among those film hitting streaming, but this may not be the case. Smith's deal specifically calls for a theatrical-only release.
Deadline provided the update in an article about the upcoming streaming releases and numerous battles taking place behind the scenes. The article mentioned several films and how the COVID-19 pandemic would impact the back-end deals for their stars. King Richard provides an interesting case considering that the film focusing on Serena and Venus Williams' childhood nearly went to Netflix but ultimately became a theatrical release.
"Smith’s deal expressly calls for a theatrical only release, sources say, and while he became the first big star to sign one of those $30 million Netflix salary + pre-negotiated back end deals several years ago on Bright, Warner Bros only won the vigorous King Richard auction because its makers and the family of Venus and Serena Williams wanted to see the underdog story of their father Richard play on the big screen," the outlet reported.
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. Though there is a scenario where the film only releases in theaters due to Smith's contract.
The tennis film will be about the true-life story of Richard Williams, and 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.
Prior to the pandemic, there were several photos that surfaced from the set and showed Smith in era-appropriate attire. He donned a pink polo shirt, tiny red shorts and high socks while filming scenes at a Los Angeles tennis court. His beard also featured a considerable amount of grey hair to show his age. Other photos showed him interacting with Bernthal's character and driving an old Volkswagen van. The Punisher star also looked very different due to his long mane of hair and '70s mustache.