Cinema operators have taken aim at Warner Bros after the Hollywood studio announced that all new 2021 releases will be available to stream as soon as they hit theatres.

The US entertainment conglomerate said all of its 2021 releases would go straight to HBO Max, the streaming service owned by its ultimate parent company, AT&T.

Warner Bros had already announced that Wonder Woman 1984 would be available on HBO Max, as well as in cinemas.

The films, which are expected to include Godzilla vs. Kong and The Suicide Squad, will be available on HBO Max for one month starting on the same day they hit theatres, the studio said in a statement.

Mortal Kombat, a new version of Dune and a Matrix sequel also are scheduled to follow the new release pattern.

Theatres have long resisted attempts by studios to shorten the time that cinemas can offer new movies exclusively, but Ann Sarnoff, chair and chief executive of WarnerMedia Studios, said the pandemic called for “creative solutions”.

“No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do,” she said. “We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theatres in the US will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021.”

However, cinema operators have not taken kindly to the plan, with AMC chief executive Adam Aron accusing Warner Bros of sacrificing profits at its studio to boost HBO Max. He added: “We will do all in our power to ensure that Warner does not do so at our expense. We will aggressively pursue economic terms that preserve our business.”

Theatre chains have been devastated by the pandemic and forced to lay off workers and borrow funds to stay afloat. AMC, which is world’s largest cinema exhibitor, last month reported seeing revenues plummet by more than 90 per cent in the third quarter.

Sarnoff added that the “unique one-year plan” would give “moviegoers who may not have access to theatres, or aren’t quite ready to go back to the movies, the chance to see our amazing 2021 films.

“We see it as a win-win for film lovers and exhibitors, and we’re extremely grateful to our filmmaking partners for working with us on this innovative response to these circumstances.”

HBO Max charges $15 a month, while the average cost of two cinema tickets in the US reached $18.32 in 2019, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners.

Image: ?LiAnG? / CC BY 2.0 / Edited for size