Wonder Woman 1984 has posted the strongest box office showing yet during the ongoing pandemic, despite many movie theaters still being shuttered, raking in an estimated $85 million globally thus far. The film was simultaneously released on HBO Max on Christmas Day, and the streamer also reported that downloads were in high demand. In light of that strong showing (especially given the unprecedented circumstances), Warner Bros. has fast-tracked a third Wonder Woman film, with Patty Jenkins writing and returning as directors and Gal Gadot back in the title role.
“As fans around the world continue to embrace Diana Prince, driving the strong opening weekend performance of Wonder Woman 1984, we are excited to be able to continue her story with our real life Wonder Women—Gal and Patty—who will return to conclude the long-planned theatrical trilogy,” Toby Emmerich, Chairman of Warner Bros. Pictures Group, said in a statement.
The studio hasn’t released any hard streaming numbers for HBO Max, just the following statement: “Nearly half of the platform’s retail subscribers viewing the film on the day of its arrival, along with millions of wholesale subscribers who have access to HBO Max via a cable, wireless, or other partner services. HBO Max also saw the total viewing hours on Friday more than triple in comparison to a typical day in the previous month.” But according to Bloomberg News, the market-research firm Apptopia estimated that 554,000 users signed up for the HBO Max app between Friday (Christmas Day) and Sunday. There were 244,000 downloads on Sunday alone, a single-day record for the streaming platform.
“Wonder Woman 1984 broke records and exceeded our expectations across all of our key viewing and subscriber metrics in its first 24 hours on the service, and the interest and momentum we’re seeing indicates this will likely continue well beyond the weekend,” Andy Forssell, Executive Vice President and General Manager, WarnerMedia Direct-to-Consume, said in a statement. “During these very difficult times, it was nice to give families the option of enjoying this uplifting film at home, where theater viewing wasn’t an option.”
However, as Anthony D’Alessandro pointed out over at Deadline Hollywood, Wonder Woman 1985‘s box office is still “a disaster by normal pre-pandemic marketplace standards,” and he questioned the wisdom of a simultaneous theatrical and streaming release. “Why do box office damage to a piece of lucrative IP by forcing a theatrical release when exhibition is barely alive and the feature can feasibly be copied via its HBO Max streaming drop?” (It’s estimated that Wonder Woman 1984 would have to gross $500 million worldwide to break even, given its blockbuster production budget.)
D’Alessandro also provided a sobering reality check regarding that HBO Max performance:
For all the fairy tale notions that any shortfall at the global box office here for WW84 will be made up by HBO Max subscriptions, keep the following in mind: In order to make a ton of money, WarnerMedia needs to grow their subscriber base outside of HBO. AT&T reported during their third quarter that it had 38M subscribers between HBO pay-cable subs and HBO Max subs. AT&T CEO John Stankey recently reported at the UBS Global TMT Virtual Conference that HBO Max added 4M customer “activations” to reach 12.6M. WarnerMedia doesn’t make any money by merely activating current HBO subscribers into HBO Max subs with WW84. They need to make greater outsider additions, and right now, HBO Max is only a US service. If 38M households became active over the holiday weekend with HBO Max, and assuming two tickets potentially bought per household, that’s 76M tickets unsold to WW84. But, once again, the leverage of WW84 on HBO Max was a marketing stunt to raise the streamer’s profile. Go figure.
Earlier this month, WarnerMedia announced that it will follow a similar concurrent digital/theater launch plan for all the movies slated for release in 2021, in yet another staggering blow to movie theaters still struggling amidst a raging pandemic that shows no sign of slowing down, particularly in the United States. The entire slate of films will be available to HBO Max subscribers for 31 days, after which they will only be playing in theaters. Once the traditional time has elapsed between theater and home release, the films will be available to rent via the usual online platforms (Amazon, iTunes, or Fandango). That 2021 slate includes includes The Little Things, Judas and the Black Messiah, Tom & Jerry, Godzilla vs. Kong, Mortal Kombat, Those Who Wish Me Dead, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, In the Heights, Space Jam: A New Legacy, The Suicide Squad, Reminiscence, Malignant, Dune, The Many Saints of Newark, King Richard, Cry Macho, and Matrix 4.
WarnerMedia chair and CEO Ann Sarnoff described the model as a “unique one-year plan,” given the unprecedented challenges inflicted on the industry by the pandemic. This is not expected to continue into 2022. But it’s still not sitting well with exhibitors, who are fighting to survive. “This continues to feel like a doomsday scenario for exhibition, and we’ll see how the marketplace plays it out once the pandemic lifts,” D’Alessandro observed at Deadline Hollywood
It’s not yet clear whether the as-yet-untitled Wonder Woman 3 will follow a similar hybrid model, or whether it will be released exclusively in theaters. It all depends on when it’s slated for release (ithe script hasn’t even be completed yet) and whether the pandemic has subsided sufficiently for most theaters to be open by then. Clearly Warner Bros. is hedging its bets for 2021. But the studio recently announced that three major 2023 movies are going straight to theatrical: Coyote vs. Acme, Mad Max prequel Furiosa, and The Color Purple. That probably bodes well for the third Wonder Woman installment.