One of The Matrix Resurrections’ production companies, Village Roadshow, is suing studio Warner Bros for the film’s same-day streaming release on HBO Max, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.
Neither Warner Bros. nor WarnerMedia, which runs both WB and HBO Max, immediately responded to messages seeking comment.
The suit underscores continuing friction in Hollywood as studios try to figure out a new normal for releasing movies after nearly two years of pandemic. Before COVID-19, the rigid release cycles for new films had been immutable for decades, but coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions forced a wave of experimentation in how, when and where you can watch new movies. While the new options gave consumers unprecedented choice, they often clashed with the standards for how stars, filmmakers and productions companies get paid.
Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson, for example, sued Disney last year over the company’s decision to stream the Marvel blockbuster on its streaming service Disney Plus simultaneously with its release in theaters. The two later settled.
Like Johansson, Village Roadshow is suing Warner Bros. for breach of contract. “WB’s sole purpose in moving the release date of ‘The Matrix Resurrections’ forward was to create a desperately needed wave of year-end HBO Max premium subscriptions from what it knew would be a blockbuster film, despite knowing full well that it would decimate the film’s box office revenue and deprive Village Roadshow of any economic upside that WB and its affiliates would enjoy,” the suit said, according to WSJ’s report.
HBO Max become synonymous with the practice of streaming new movies the same day they hit theaters last year, as WarnerMedia released the entire 2021 movie slate of studio Warner Bros. on Max that way. The Matrix sequel was the last movie to get that treatment last year, and Warner Bros. is largely giving its films a period of exclusivity in theaters this year.
When WarnerMedia announced the plan in late 2020 to release all of WB’s movies on HBO Max at no added cost, it triggered a brutal Hollywood backlash from incensed filmmakers and stars. WarnerMedia reportedly paid out between $200 million and $300 million to talent to smooth over those irritations.