Wonder Woman 1984 will be free to HBO Max subscribers for one month, making it difficult to justify Disney+ fees to subscribers for new releases.
Wonder Woman 1984 will release on HBO Max for free and that’s bad news for Disney+. Wonder Woman 1984 will release more than a year after it was initially supposed to debut. The film was originally planned for a theatrical release on December 13, 2019, then moved to November 1, 2019, so it wouldn’t have to compete with the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Wonder Woman 1984 was eventually moved to June 5, 2020, because the studio decided that it preferred a summer release, but then the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
With many theaters closed, the release of Wonder Woman 1984 was pushed out a few months at a time until Warner Bros, desperate to release the film, finally decided on a streaming release for Wonder Woman 1984 via HBO Max (owned by Warner Bros parent company, Warner Media) alongside a theatrical release. The first Wonder Woman movie had an incredibly successful box office run, grossing roughly $820 million in 2017. The Wonder Woman sequel was expected to do even better, possibly surpassing the billion-dollar mark. But after Tenet – which was expected to do similarly well in theaters this year – ended up losing money, Warner Bros decided to reverse a strategy pioneered by Disney+ with Mulan.
Disney+ charged its United States subscribers a fee of $29.99 for premium access to Mulan before making the film available to all subscribers, but they might not be able to get away with the tactic again after Wonder Woman 1984 is made available to all HBO Max subscribers for free for one month. Following its limited HBO Max release, Wonder Woman 1984 will only be available to watch in theaters. While Disney+ has a $6.99 monthly subscription fee, which is less than half the price of HBO Max’s, HBO Max still offers a 7-day free trial for new subscribers. It’s likely that HBO Max will see a massive surge in subscribers over Christmas week and through the month of January – and they’re counting on a lot of those subscribers to stick around.
With studios losing more and more money on canceled theatrical releases, their sights are now set on streaming platforms like HBO Max and Disney+. Many theaters in the U.S. will remain closed indefinitely and big-budget movies will almost certainly lose money in the short run. But a deluge of new subscribers (who are desperate for new movies in a year marked by the delayed production and release of several highly anticipated films) could sustain these studios until theaters can safely open.
Disney+ had success in drawing new subscribers with the release of Hamilton, but Disney didn’t have to rely on a $30 fee to recoup a $200 million production budget like they did with Mulan. Wonder Woman 1984 had a similar production budget and could have taken a similar route. Instead, Wonder Woman 1984 will serve a greater purpose for Warner Media, likely attracting hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of new subscribers, many of whom would not otherwise be interested in the company’s streaming platform, HBO Max.
Mulan will be available to all Disney+ subscribers on December 4, 2020, roughly three months after its initial release. Disney+ will likely see another uptick in new subscribers on that date, but Wonder Woman 1984’s release might give Disney some insight on what would have happened if they had released Mulan without a fee from the beginning – and what could happen if Disney+ tries to charge their subscribers a fee for new content again.