Truly, this is a uniquely terrible time to attempt the release of a blockbuster superhero movie. With COVID-19 cases surging to all-time highs in the U.S., and the infection rate at more than 160,000 new cases per day, it’s sort of a wonder that any of the major theater chains are still open for business. Note of course that not all the chains are open—after reopening for only a few months, the entire Regal chain shut down once again in the U.S. back in October, leaving the nation’s largest chain, AMC, almost uncontested. That might seem to help the likes of AMC do business, but it’s contingent upon one thing: Having new films to screen. And that’s been considerably trickier.
Most recently, all of the film exhibition industry’s hopes have been pinned on Wonder Woman 1984, the sequel to director Patty Jenkins’ worldwide box office smash from 2017, which brought in more than $820 million. The sequel, set in the 1980s as the title would imply, was originally intended as a summer tentpole to be released in June, but COVID-19 bumped that release date back to Christmas, where it’s now the sole remaining major film on the schedule. Warner Bros. is left weighing the costs of another difficult decision: Forge ahead with the Christmas release, hoping to make the best of a bad situation, or delay yet again as all the other major films have done?
Execs at Warner Bros. are no doubt extra sensitive to this issue, given that the studio’s September release of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet vastly underperformed at the U.S. box office, despite decent numbers overseas. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic is worse now than it was in the fall, and Western European nations are again implementing quarantines and lockdowns, further limiting the theatrical market abroad. It’s hard to imagine that any of this will be looking any better by Christmas, as vaccines in particular still won’t have arrived in any kind of universal capacity.
As a result, Warner Bros. is reportedly looking into a variety of different options, including streaming releases. Bloomberg made waves yesterday by reporting that anonymous sources within Warner Bros. said the studio was considering an accelerated release window that would see Wonder Woman 1984 going to HBO Max only a few weeks after hitting theaters—something that exhibitors could be goaded into agreeing to, because they’re so desperate for new content. Deadline, meanwhile, instead reports that the release could be simultaneous—that Wonder Woman 1984 could hit both theaters AND HBO Max on Christmas Day. Which begs the question: Who is going to go risk their health to see something in a theater that they can also watch in the safety of their living room?
As of yesterday, a Warner Bros. spokesperson was still saying the following to Deadline: “WW1984 will be in theaters.” This we don’t doubt, whether or not there will be anyone there to see it. The question is when, which we should know sooner rather than later.
In the meantime, check out the still-recent full trailer for Wonder Woman 1984 below.