Warner Bros. will return to theatrical releases in 2022, ending its HBO Max experiment

Warner Bros. will return to releasing its theatrical films exclusively in theaters next year, Deadline reports. The decision ends the studio’s 2021 experiment of releasing major films like Wonder Woman 1984, Godzilla vs. Kong, Mortal Kombat, The Suicide Squad, Dune, and The Matrix 4 simultaneously on its HBO Max streaming service and in theaters for the first 30 days they’re released.

The news comes as part of an announcement from Warner Bros. of a new deal with Regal cinemas owner Cineworld, the second largest theater chain in the world. After over six months of shutdowns, Regal’s theaters will reopen in April, and they’ll begin showing Warner Bros. films like Kong vs. Godzilla and Mortal Kombat alongside their HBO Max debuts.

When Warner Bros. films come back to theaters in 2022, Regal theaters will once again have full exclusivity (with no HBO Max or paid streaming rental competition). But that exclusivity window will be for a much shorter amount of time: Regal will only have a 45-day theatrical exclusivity window, half of the 90-day standard that existed in years past.

The shortened theatrical window matches recent changes from other studios instigated by the COVID-19 pandemic’s devastating effects on the film business. Paramount recently announced similar 45-day windows for its blockbuster films like Mission: Impossible 7 and an even shorter 30-day window for smaller titles. Universal has also signed similar deals with both AMC and Cinemark: films with openings less than $50 million domestically will hit paid video services 17 days after they debut, while movies with larger opening weekends can start paid rentals 31 days after debuting.

Disney has similarly been experimenting with day and date premium streaming releases through its Disney Plus Premiere Access program, which has offered films like Mulan and Raya and the Last Dragon early for an additional $30 fee.

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