HBO Max and its corporate sibling Warner Bros. announced today they’re teaming up to launch a new label that will produce movies for WarnerMedia’s HBO Max streaming service. The label, Warner Max, will produce eight to 10 films annually for the service, which launches in May, with the first titles dropping on the platform at some point this year.
The label will deal in mid-budget releases, the kind of films that have increasingly disappeared from theaters in favor of streaming-only distribution. It’s a strategy already being employed by Disney with its four-month-old Disney+ service: The studio remains committed to theatrical tentpoles like the upcoming Marvel title “Black Widow,” while giving a streaming debut to mid-budget fare like the live-action “Lady and the Tramp.”
Warner Max hasn’t yet made its slate public, but its likely some previously announced projects, like the Melissa McCarthy vehicle “Superintelligence,” will be among the first films to bear the label’s name. Director Ben Falcone earlier this year said the film would not get a theatrical release, a wise financial decision given the downward trend in McCarthy’s box-office grosses, like the most recent Falcone-McCarthy collaboration “Life of the Party.”
With a $65.85 million gross on an estimated $30 million budget, it was their poorest-performing film to date. While a McCarthy-starring film may not be enough to drive people to theaters in droves, the comedian remains popular and a recognizable name: The film will be an attractive addition to HBO Max’s slate as streamers have doubled down on their commitment to exclusive, high-quality content. That’s a trend that’s played out at Netflix, which just extended its deal with Adam Sandler to produce more streaming-only movies.
However, the company says Warners and New Line Cinema will each continue to release mid-budget movies for theatrical distribution, while Warner Max will “create a new pipeline for filmmakers looking to make a particular type of film or connect with a specific audience that would be best reached in the streaming environment.”
Awards hopefuls were among the mid-budget movies released by Warner Bros. in theaters last year, including Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell,” which earned an Oscar nomination for supporting actress Kathy Bates, and Edward Norton’s “Motherless Brooklyn,” which got a Golden Globe nod for original score.
Day-to-day operations at the label will be handled by Jessie Henderson, executive VP of original feature films for HBO Max, who will jointly report to Warner Bros. Pictures COO Carolyn Blackwood and HBO Max’s Head of Original Content Sarah Aubrey. HBO Max’s Chief Content Officer Kevin Reilly and Warner Bros. Pictures Group Chairman Toby Emmerich together share greenlight responsibility for Warner Max films.
In the streaming wars, ensuring quality is not sacrificed in the name of quantity is the name of the game. Just Tuesday, Disney CEO Bob Iger highlighted several times on the company’s Q1 earnings call that quality original films and series played a big part in making Disney+ such a huge success.