Hollywood film studios have all been forced to make major changes to their release strategies due to the COVID-19 pandemic but none have had as extreme a response as Warner Bros. Faced with not just uncertainty as to when cinemas would reopen again, but also a fledgling sister streaming service in HBO Max that had gotten off to a rather pedestrian start, WB owners AT&T decided to swing for the fences, declaring that the entire WB 2021 film slate will debut simultaneously on HBO Max and in theatres where available. While many consumers applauded the move as it gave them unprecedented viewing options, there were some in the film industry – who had not been given advance warning – who were not as pleased. Hell, you could even say they were pissed off.
One of those aggrieved parties was Lionsgate who had put up a reported 75% of the budget of WB’s hotly-anticipated sci-fi epic Dune. The big-screen adaptation of Frank Herbert’s wildly beloved sci-fi novel had been in the works for ages, and Lionsgate felt that because of its availability on HBO Max, it would detract from already diminished box office earnings. Even worse, this is supposed to be the first of a two-part adaptation, and poor performance could torpedo those plans. There had even been rumblings of legal action from Lionsgate’s side. And they had some big support as Dune’s writer/director Denis Villeneuve held nothing back when he wrote a scathing open letter chastising WB’s strategy, saying that the decision had nothing to do with satisfying audiences but rather this was a hugely in-debt AT&T trying to falsely bolster HBO Max to help get them back in the black.
Thus when Deadline reported yesterday that WB had reversed its decision and Dune would now only be debuting in theatres and not on HBO Max, it made a whole lot of sense, and the story was quickly propagated throughout the entertainment biz. According to Deadline’s sources, Dune would premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September before opening wide cinemas in October. It would eventually hit HBO Max, but only after it completed its theatrical run. Except, that story is apparently not true. That’s at least according to WB itself.
Johanna Fuentes, head of communications at WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, was the first to shoot down the report, tweeting in response to the story that “Dune will premiere in theaters and on HBO Max on the same day in the US. Other WB execs reached out to the likes of IndieWire to also refute the initial report, with WB President of Domestic Distribution Jeff Goldstein saying that there’s been “no change” to the studio’s release strategy for Dune.
Of course, that could all change as rapidly as WB initially declaring its current strategy. After all, AT&T is getting out of the entertainment business as the communications conglomerate is spinning off WarnerMedia and its subsidiaries to merge with Discovery (the US TV network, not the medical aid company) in a mammoth $43 billion deal. As is usually the case in these things, WarnerMedia will see new exec management with the merger, and it’s being reported that the new bosses are a lot more sympathetic to the complaints of their creators such as Villeneuve. So don’t be too surprised if another report actually does come out to refute this refutation and Dune heads to theatres exclusively after all.
Not that it matters all that much to us down here in South Africa as there’s still not even inkling about when/if HBO Max will launch locally.
Last Updated: May 19, 2021