Big news for people who like big screens: Warner Bros. and AMC Theaters have reached a deal for 2022 that will require a 45-day theatrical window before movies can hit streaming services. It’s a short-term victory for theaters struggling during the pandemic, but the arrangement suggests that the balance of power has permanently shifted away from multiplexes and towards the big studios.
As The Hollywood Reporter notes, the pact was actually worked out several months ago, though it wasn’t revealed until an AMC earnings call on Monday, August 9th. AMC CEO Adam Aron referenced Warner Bros.’s controversial distribution deal with HBO Max, which allowed films like Mortal Kombat, The Suicide Squad, and more to be viewed on HBO Max the same day they arrived in theaters. “We’re especially pleased Warner Bros. has decided to move away from day-and-date,” Aron said. “We are in active dialogue with every major studio.”
Aron added that it was “no secret” that AMC was “not at all happy” with the pandemic arrangement, which caused an existential crisis for chains like AMC. He also took a veiled shot at the underwhelming box office performances of recent flicks like The Suicide Squad and Black Widow, saying, “An exclusive window is an important way to build big and successful franchises.”
That may be true, but the COVID crisis has demonstrated that movie chains need studios more than studios need the chains. As evidence, look no further than the 45-day theatrical window, which is half the pre-pandemic 90-day window. The studios had long chafed at waiting 90 days, but had never done anything about it out of fear of a boycott. The novel coronavirus stripped companies like AMC of their biggest bargaining chip, and while 2022 may feel more normal to movie goers, the balance of power may never be the same.
As this is happening, the talent in front of the camera is also reevaluating its relationships to the studios. At the end of July, Black Widow anchor Scarlett Johansson sued Disney, alleging that the movie’s same-day release on Disney+ cost the actress as much as $50 million.