“The Many Saints of Newark” is just the latest Warner Bros. film to highlight the pitfalls of releasing content in theaters and on streaming platforms at the same time.
The feature film prequel to the award-winning and beloved HBO series “The Sopranos” tallied just $5 million in ticket sales domestically over its opening weekend.
Despite decent reviews, the film’s “R” rating and connection to a television show that ended more than a decade ago were enough for box office experts to temper their expectations. Projections for the film’s domestic opening ranged from $7 million to $12 million.
Still, it is likely that “The Many Saints of Newark” saw a small box office haul because it was made available for free on HBO Max at the same time it launched in theaters.
“As one of the most-anticipated films of the fall movie season, ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ undoubtedly boosted viewership for HBO Max,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. “The day and date release gave fans the opportunity to watch the film at home, where they first discovered and became obsessed with ‘The Sopranos.’ This may have accounted for the box office results generated in movie theaters this weekend.”
Representatives from Warner Bros. did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
For much of 2021, studios opted to make many of their new films available in cinemas and on streaming platforms at the same time. These decisions were made well before vaccination rates were on the rise and before moviegoers were confident enough to return to cinemas.
It has become clear in recent months, however, that the dual release has led to the cannibalization of ticket sales.
Warner Bros. has been particularly hit by this as it made the decision in late 2020 to release its entire 2021 slate in theaters and on HBO Max at the same time.
“The Suicide Squad,” “Space Jam: A New Legacy” and “In the Heights” have managed to lure in HBO Max viewers, but this meant fewer people ventured out to theaters and each film’s theatrical run and box office gross tapered more quickly.
“I’m not sure there’s much more to belabor on the struggling hybrid model after Warner’s string of box office misfires,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice.com.
Other studios have now returned to an exclusive theatrical window strategy after seeing similar results with their own films. Disney‘s “Black Widow” and “Jungle Cruise” both saw slimmer box office hauls because of availability on the company’s streaming service for a $30 fee.
Warner Bros. announced that it would also be returning to cinema-only releases in 2022 during its parent company AT&T’s earnings call in July.