Having seen The Snyder Cut, aka Zack Snyder's Justice League, I can confidently say it's a bad movie. I even watched it twice: once to review it, a second time to laugh at it with friends. But my opinion isn't the whole story — and I still think the movie is good... for HBO Max, that is.
Insiders who spoke to Deadline claim it was the streamer's biggest movie behind Wonder Woman 1984. And that makes it exactly the kind of film that HBO Max needs for today, and the future. It's because of movies like Snyder Cut that HBO Max feels more essential than Netflix. Here's why.
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Streaming services need to be known for something
Let's look at the situation HBO Max is in, and how it sets the streaming service up to need big movies — no matter how bad or long some are. The past three years have seen a huge influx of new (and relaunched) streaming services. Apple TV Plus arrived in November 2019, followed by Disney Plus that same month.
Then, in 2020, we saw Quibi, Peacock and HBO Max all arrive in a four-month window. And while one could have theorized that pandemic boredom would have bestowed upon audiences unlimited time for any streaming service to succeed, Quibi didn't make it to 2021. After that, we didn't get a new streaming service until Paramount Plus in February 2022. And of all of those streaming services, only Disney Plus feels like it's been a big hit so far. None of the others have an equivalent to Mandalorian, WandaVision or even a Hamilton.
At best, Apple TV is the place that has fun, quirky comedies that people politely recommend you watch, such as Ted Lasso and Dickinson. Peacock was supposed to be the home of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and we may still get the games this year, if reports are to be believed. And while HBO Max launched with Friends (and Peacock later got The Office), one show does not a streaming service make.
Then on Christmas Day, HBO Max became the service you needed for Wonder Woman 1984, as the world was hankering for a big blockbuster action movie. Netflix countered by dropping the Mank, a tribute to the history of cinema. Unfortunately, it didn't own the conversation in the same way that 'WW84' did.
HBO Max's winning strategy owns 2021 builds to 2022
Netflix is the established big house of streaming media. But these days, many of us are thinking about cancelling Netflix. We'll probably be back for Stranger Things season 4, but Netflix has earned no good will with all of its cancellations, including calling off Glow season 4, which I'm still smarting over.
Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, agrees that HBO Max is doing the opposite of that: creating a foundation for the future.
"They're putting in place the building blocks to have a long-term subscriber base that is going to be attracted by these big movies," said Dergarabedian in a phone interview with Tom's Guide.
And 2022's change in Warner Bros. Pictures post-pandemic release schedules, where HBO Max won't have big Warner Bros. Pictures movies on day one, may not be a big problem.
"So if the initial subscriber base becomes bigger and bigger because of these blockbuster titles that are drawing people like a moth to a flame, to get them to sign up, then down the road, even when they go back to the 45 day or go to a 45 day theatrical window, I don't see people just leaving because they can say 'I can go see the Batman,'" said Dergarabedian
Given the size and cultural cachet of these movies, Dergarabedian believes that "ping-ponging consumers or movie fans" will move back and forth, between "that small screen that's in their house," and theaters. This way, HBO Max will maintain its acronymized namesake as the Home Box Office.
The good news for HBO Max is that its big movies aren't all worn out comic book films. Both Judas and The Black Messiah were excellent. The upcoming Dune and The Suicide Squad look fantastic. And the list of popcorn-worthy titles goes on with The Matrix 4, Godzilla vs Kong, Mortal Kombat, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, and Space Jam 2.
While we're able to pay for Netflix and HBO Max at the same time, these days the latter is taking ownership of the streaming conversation away from the former. Yes, Disney Plus is sucking up a lot of the oxygen with it's deep back catalog and affordable pricing, but its big tent-pole shows are spaced a bit too far wide to make its annual package feel like a smart investment.
While a new generation of streaming services search for identity, HBO Max is carving out a space to be one of the biggest threats to Netflix's dominance. HBO Max's year of big budget movies at home may not be Christopher Nolan's favorite idea, but it's going to be a winner with audiences. And unless you need soccer or pro wrestling, it's hard to see as compelling a reason to pay for Paramount Plus or Peacock.
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