During David Zaslav’s first wave of catastrophic and mystifying decisions as Warner Bros. Discovery CEO, commentators joked that he was purposefully running the studio into the ground. Looking at Warner’s response to the writers’ and actors’ strikes, this conspiracy theory is increasingly easy to believe.
Last week the studio delayed Dune 2 from its original November release date to March 2024. It’s one of the biggest movies to be delayed amid the strikes, with studios fearing that ticket sales will suffer without promotion from striking actors.
The problem is Dune: Part Two‘s press campaign had already begun, cracking the seal on the film’s marketing budget. The first trailer came out in June, and Warner Bros. announced the delay on the same day that Empire magazine unveiled a Dune 2 cover issue. So this abrupt announcement suggests that Warner Bros. is floundering, with film critics accusing the studio of self-sabotage.
While the strikes have brought America’s film industry to a standstill, this could end very quickly if major studios agreed to negotiate. They only have themselves to blame for these delays. And somehow, Warner Bros. has managed to deliver the worst response of all.
Why the Warner Bros. release calendar is a disaster
Within weeks of Barbenheimer revitalizing the theatrical market, studio executives are shooting themselves in the foot. Foreign films and some indie releases are still going ahead as normal, but blockbusters – ie. the financial cornerstone of Hollywood’s A-list studios – are increasingly risky propositions. Many films have also halted mid-production, signaling further delays down the line.
Warner’s last major release was Blue Beetle, a DC superhero flop that suffered from poor promotion even before the strikes. Aside from The Nun II in a couple of weeks, the studio’s next three movies are all scheduled for the Christmas market. They’re also being released on top of each other: Wonka on Dec. 15, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom on Dec. 20, and The Color Purple on Dec. 25.
We have to assume Warner Bros. will delay either Aquaman 2 or Wonka, but both options could lead to a massive box office bomb. Either the studio releases two blockbusters in one week with limited promotion, or it creates further disruption after a run of DC franchise flops.
Theatrical release calendars are admittedly an inside baseball issue. But a simpler way to look at this is that instead of negotiating with the unions’ demands (which are pretty reasonable and inexpensive!), the studios would prefer to tank their own movies.