Warner Bros has escalated tensions between Hollywood’s studios and US cinemas with a decision to make all releases available to stream as soon as they hit the big screen.
The move will enable film fans to watch the forthcoming sci-fi epic Dune and the Matrix sequel on HBO Max at the same time as their cinema release.
Typically, new releases are shown exclusively at cinemas for months.
But with many cinemas shut due to the virus, studio revenues have plunged.
As a result, Warner Bros said all of its 2021 releases would go straight to HBO Max, the streaming service owned by its ultimate parent company AT&T.
The films will be available on the service, which is not yet available in the UK, for one month after release.
The releases are expected to include Godzilla vs Kong, Mortal Kombat and The Suicide Squad.
Warner Bros had already announced that its big budget Christmas action movie – Wonder Woman 1984 – would be available on HBO Max, as well as in cinemas.
Ann Sarnoff, chair and chief executive of WarnerMedia Studios, said the pandemic called for “creative solutions”.
“No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do,” she said.
“We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theatres in the US will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021.”
Earlier in the year, US cinema chain AMC, which owns Odeon in the UK, banned all Universal films after the studio said it would release new movies at home and on the big screen on the same day.
The two firms eventually agreed that Universal films can go to digital services after just 17 days of viewing in cinemas.
Explaining Warner Bros’ decision, Ms Sarnoff said the “unique one-year plan” would give “moviegoers who may not have access to theatres, or aren’t quite ready to go back to the movies, the chance to see our amazing 2021 films”.
“We see it as a win-win for film lovers and exhibitors, and we’re extremely grateful to our filmmaking partners for working with us on this innovative response to these circumstances.”