• Warner Bros. has announced its 2021 lineup will premiere both conventionally and on HBO Max
  • It will only last through the year, but the news still sent theater stocks spiraling
  • It's the latest body blow after Disney premiered 2020's blockbusters on Disney+ and "Tenet's" conventional launch failed

Movie studio Warner Bros. announced Thursday that it will release all of its 2021 feature films on HBO Max alongside traditional theaters.

While its statement characterized the strategy as a mutually beneficial, one-time solution during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, theater stocks plummeted and many moviegoers lamented what they saw as another nail in the coffin for the traditional movie experience.

The movies will stream in high definition for a full month after their release before being removed from the platform and following a more conventional release structure. Other production companies, notably Disney, have also released highly anticipated movies on streaming services as the public remains wary of large gatherings.

“No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do,” said Ann Sarnoff, Warner Bros. chief executive. “We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theaters in the U.S. will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021.”

While Warner Bros. plans to resume normal operations next year, the news signaled to many investors a broader shift away from conventional theaters. Theater stocks fell across the board by around 6-12%, with AMC and Cinemark dropping 17% and 21% respectively, Variety reports.

It’s just the latest in a grim procession of bad news to theaters. Disney has released a number of highly anticipated films like Mulan and Soul on Disney+ instead of in theaters.

Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” flopped in physical theaters during Spring’s attempted reopening, spooking many producers now convinced that public fear rather than government mandates prompted people to stay away from theaters.

An Empty Movie Theater in France
A message concerning the distance measures is displayed on a giant screen inside a movie theatre room in Paris on June 17, 2020, few days before all the movies and theatres will be allowed to re-open, as France eases lockdown measures taken to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic (novel coronavirus). (Photo by THOMAS COEX / AFP) (Photo by THOMAS COEX/AFP via Getty Images) (Photo by THOMAS COEX/AFP via Getty Images)

Some moviegoers mourned the perceived loss, but others welcomed the change and the increased accessibility streaming over HBO Max provides.

“I did not think HBO Max could attract users. Mind officially changed. This is the only way they could compete for mindshare against Disney, Netflix and Prime,” said Hank Green, author and online content producer. “They have rightfully realized that they are being handed an opportunity to own their value. Movie theaters are f---ed.”