For many Hollywood studios, 2021 provided the rare opportunity to figure out movie distribution patterns that had piqued the curiosity of film industry folks long before the pandemic. For years, the only way to watch a new film was at a movie theater. After COVID, there are no set rules on how a new movie can be released.
In the last year and a half, some movies were released exclusively in theaters before crossing over to digital platforms; other films were made available on streaming platforms the same day as their theatrical releases. Throughout 2021, nearly every new Warner Bros. movie release appeared on HBO Max—a measure being discontinued now as theaters have reopened and Warner and Discovery are expected to merge by the summer of 2023.
Several new streaming services owned by media heavyweights with their own movie studios drew tremendous viewership during the pandemic, among them Peacock, Paramount+, and Disney+—which took many of its live-action and animated features streaming-first, including “Turning Red,” “Black Widow,” and “Raya and the Last Dragon.” Such initiatives have changed how success is measured. For example, “The Many Saints of Newark,” released in fall 2021 by Warner Bros., was a flop at the box office but a major hit for HBO Max.