With movie theaters closed across the globe for an indefinite period of time, Warner Bros. is discussing whether to take its upcoming DC Comics tentpole “Wonder Woman 1984” directly to streaming and bypass theaters altogether, two knowledgeable individuals told TheWrap.
The discussions are still preliminary and have remained close to Warner Pictures Group Chairman Toby Emmerich and his top advisers, according to one individual with knowledge of the conversation. Even director Patty Jenkins and producer Charles Roven have not been brought into the talks.
According to the Warner insiders, the preference is still to release the movie theatrically — but executives are considering a streaming alternative, probably as a direct-to-consumer offering rather than as part of Warner’s soon-to-launch subscription service HBO Max. The concern, the insiders said, is that there is no known date for movie theaters to reopen and there may be a shortage of favorable dates once theaters do come back online for the many films that have been postponed. “Wonder Woman 1984” is still officially slated for wide release on June 4.
Roven and Jenkins would like to see the movie hit theaters in August, one insider said, but with so much uncertainty, Warner executives wonder if that is a realistic possibility amid a pandemic that has upended Hollywood and threatens to have long-term repercussions for the industry.
Still, the insider said there are not yet financial models that would allow the studio to compare the outcome of two distribution systems for a film with a budget that multiple other insiders told TheWrap is just short of $200 million. (The studio would not confirm the budget.)
Warner President of Domestic Distribution Jeff Goldstein told TheWrap that there have not been any streaming discussions. “We’re looking to release the movie theatrically, that’s our plan,” he said. An individual close to the film confirmed that Jenkins has had no discussions with the studio about a streaming option.
Roven also dismissed the idea of a streaming-only release. “It’s ludicrous if you consider how big a movie this is,” he said in an interview. “Everybody recognizes that, as interesting as streaming might be, if you want a huge, global worldwide box office, you’ve got to release it in a movie theater.”
Indeed, analysts like Lightshed’s Rich Greenfield have questioned whether video on demand could generate the the kind of revenue — and profits — that studios typically see from the theatrical release of blockbusters like a “Wonder Woman” sequel. Patty Jenkins’ 2017 original grossed $822 million based on a budget between $120 million and $150 million.
But “Wonder Woman” is another order of magnitude given that 2017’s “Wonder Woman” was the highest-grossing film by a solo female director, and was the 10th highest-grossing film of that year.
Based on the success of the first film, as well as the other recent solo endeavors in the DC Universe, “Wonder Woman 1984” was expected to be a big summer blockbuster and the hope was that it would hit $1 billion in global revenue. By comparison, “Aquaman” took in $1.15 billion based on $160 million budget, and “Shazam!” earned $366 million on a $100 million budget.
But the math of a VOD-only release could be challenging. If the film skips theatrical release, Warner Bros. would have to hit tens of millions of streaming purchases to make the move financially worthwhile. A recent analysis by Greenfield showed that a billion-dollar-grossing film normally produce $375 million in profit, but traditional VOD could not generate that type of revenue or profit. According to Greenfield, replacing theatrical gross profit would require 16-21 million downloaded units sold for a $1 billion movie, assuming a charge of $30-$40 per film rental.
The discussion at Warner follows Universal's plan to distribute "Trolls World Tour" on streaming platforms