This year has seen an unprecedented number of new theatrical movies being released on streaming services the same day they hit cinemas. HBO Max, in particular, has become synonymous with the practice. And HBO Max is still streaming King Richard, about the father to young Venus and Serena Williams, and it’ll be streaming The Matrix Resurrections (aka Matrix 4) starting Dec. 22.
But Steven Spielberg’s new take on West Side Story, which hit theaters Friday, isn’t streaming on HBO Max.
That’s because the only movies HBO Max streams while they’re still in theaters are Warner Bros. movies. West Side Story is being released by 20th Century Studios, which is owned by Disney. King Richard and Matrix 4 are both Warner Bros. films, qualifying it to stream on HBO Max.
The strategy has created some misguided hope among moviegoers when any new movie hits theaters. Without knowing the studio distributing that new flick, lots of people get curious about whether it’s one of the movies available on HBO Max too.
Occasionally, other studios follow the HBO Max playbook and drop a film into theaters and onto a streaming service at the same time. That’s how Halloween Kills and Clifford the Big Red Dog came to be available to stream the same day they hit theaters, on Peacock and Paramount Plus respectively. (See below for more details about what movies are and aren’t streaming, and where.)
But it was HBO Max that made waves last year when it announced that it would stream all of Warner Bros.’ new, theatrically released movies in 2021 the same day they hit the big screen, at no added charge. That included Dune, Godzilla vs. Kong, In the Heights and Space Jam: A New Legacy earlier this year, and includes The Matrix 4 coming up.
But it also means movies from any other studio won’t be on Max the same day.
Can I stream West Side Story on HBO Max?
No. West Side Story is distributed by 20th Century Studios, part of Disney. It’s going to get at least 45 days in theaters exclusively starting Friday, so it won’t be available to stream anywhere.
But the first place you’ll be able to stream West Side Story may be HBO Max, just not for months. Disney owns 20th Century, the film’s distributor, and yes, Disney owns streaming services Disney Plus and Hulu. But film licensing is complicated. Years ago, HBO locked up the rights to be the first place that streams 20th Century movies. So HBO Max may be the first streaming service to get West Side Story, because of the preexisting licensing arrangement, even though Disney has owned 20th Century for years now.
However, HBO Max isn’t expected to start streaming West Side Story until roughly six to nine months after its theatrical release.
Can I still stream Dune on HBO Max?
Not now. Dune was streaming on HBO Max for the first month of its release, but it’s left the service already.
These Warner Bros. movies also return to HBO Max relatively quickly, though, usually about five months after their original premieres in theaters and on Max. Several movies have already premiered, disappeared and returned, like Godzilla vs. Kong.
What about other movies in theaters now? Are Ghostbusters: Afterlife, House of Gucci or other theatrical movies streaming now?
Halloween Kills and Clifford the Big Red Dog are two of the rare theatrical films streaming now while they’re in theaters — but they’re on services other than HBO Max.
Clifford the Big Red Dog is streaming on Paramount Plus. The streaming service and the studio distributing the movie are both owned by ViacomCBS, which decided to release the film in theaters and on Paramount Plus simultaneously.
Halloween Kills is over on Peacock. Peacock is owned by Comcast’s NBCUniversal, and Universal Pictures is the distributor of Halloween Kills. But there’s a paywall around the movie. You’ll need to sign up for a $5-a-month or $10-a-month premium tier if you want to watch Halloween Kills or any of Peacock’s other paywalled programming. (HBO Max is the next place Universal movies like Halloween Kills are set to head the line. HBO has what’s known as a pay-one licensing deal with Universal, but those movies won’t reach HBO and HBO Max until about six to nine months after theatrical release.)
But pretty much any other movie in cinemas at the moment is unavailable on a streaming service.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is being distributed by Sony Pictures, which is making it exclusive to theaters. Sony has an agreement in place for its 2021 movies to go to Starz first, where they’re available to watch on its traditional channels or stream on its app. So Starz will be the first place you’ll be able to stream this latest Sony movie, which should become available there in roughly nine months or so.
House of Gucci is being distributed in the US by United Artists Releasing, not Warner Bros, and it’s exclusively in theaters after its release over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
Encanto and Eternals — two of the latest Disney releases that have topped the US box office — aren’t available to stream yet. But they’ll be coming to Disney Plus soon: Encanto is set to start streaming there on Dec. 24 and Eternals will join the service on Jan. 12.
And most other theatrical movies don’t have streaming options. No Time to Die, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Antlers, Spencer, Last Night in Soho, The French Dispatch and Ron’s Gone Wrong were all released in theaters exclusively over the last months.
What new movies can I stream on HBO Max while they’re still in theaters?
Available until Dec. 19: King Richard.Available starting Dec. 22: The Matrix 4.
Generally, most other new Warner Bros. movies become available to stream on Max at 12:01 a.m. PT/3:01 a.m. ET on the day of their release. But the arrival timing for some movies like Dune has varied, depending on when the first cinematic screenings take place at theaters. Wonder Woman 1984, for example, became available at 9 a.m. PT/noon ET on Dec. 25 because that was the earliest theaters were open that day. Dune was in the same boat, arriving on the service at an atypical time in the afternoon when it was released.
All Warner Bros. movies released in this “hybrid” model on HBO Max will be available to watch in 4K Ultra HD resolution and HDR image quality, even though those formats aren’t yet standard for the full Max library.
These movies are available to stream on HBO Max for 31 days. Typically, they are removed from the service at 11:59 p.m. PT on the last day of availability.
But these Warner Bros. movies also return to HBO Max relatively quickly, usually about five months after their original premieres in theaters and on Max. Several movies have already come, gone and returned, including Mortal Kombat and Godzilla vs. Kong.
But 2021 is planned to be the only year for this phenomenon of streaming new big-screen movies on HBO Max as soon as they hit theaters. Warner Bros. has said that 10 movies produced by the studio will go directly to HBO Max in 2022, but big franchise movies will have 45 days in theaters exclusively without any streaming option during that time starting next year.
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