They’re a year late but one production company is suing Warner Bros. (WB) and HBO Max for their 2021 release strategy – over strictly one film that’s arguably the slate’s biggest failure.
Frequent collaborator with WB, Village Roadshow Pictures, filed a lawsuit against their former partner and their streaming service for undercutting the theatrical release of The Matrix Resurrections.
As first reported by Variety, the suit filed on February 7th alleges that Warner Bros. made “deliberate and consistent coordinated efforts ” to “eviscerate the significant value of Village Roadshow’s intellectual property in order to prop up the new HBO Max streaming service owned by WarnerMedia, the ultimate parent of WB, without providing any accounting, and shut Village Roadshow out of its legal and contractual rights to co-own and co-finance the sequels, prequels, spinoffs, and other derivative works of the nearly 100 films that Village Roadshow funded and co-owns.”
It’s added that WB deliberately harmed The Matrix Resurrections box office in order to boost HBO Max. The suit claims, “WB’s sudden change in distribution strategy was designed solely to prop up HBO Max and thereby generate revenue that it believed it could shield from those entitled to a share of the films’ distribution proceeds.”
Matrix Resurrections has made approximately $148 million theatrically so far and Village Roadshow argues in their suit WB ensured the film “would be a bust.” They contend as well that the viability of the franchise was hurt in the process.
“There can be no doubt that the abysmal theatrical box office sales figures from ‘The Matrix Resurrections’ dilute the value of this tentpole franchise as a film’s lack of profitability generally prevents studios from investing in additional sequels and derivative films in the near term,” says the suit filing.
Warner Bros. sees no merit in the lawsuit, saying in a statement it’s “a frivolous attempt by Village Roadshow to avoid their contractual commitment,” and they don’t doubt it “will be resolved in our favor.”
Whether Village Roadshow has a point or not, it is acknowledged by Matrix producer James McTeigue that there are no plans for a sequel to Resurrections or a new trilogy. “We’ve got no sequel in mind. We’ve got no further trilogy,” McTeigue stated to Collider.
That may be so for the Matrix but the suit additionally brings to light WB may have their eyes on developing another dormant property into a franchise.
Instead of a sequel, WB is considering a TV spinoff to the Doug Liman film Edge of Tomorrow starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. This effort is viewed as an attempt to cut Village Roadshow out of the proceedings when they co-produced the movie.
“More recently, WB made the decision to go forward with a television series based on ‘Edge of Tomorrow,’ another Village Roadshow film,” says the lawsuit. “But it insisted that Village Roadshow relinquish its co-finance and co-ownership rights voluntarily.”
It continues, “When Village Roadshow refused, WB said the quiet part out loud: it will not allow Village Roadshow to benefit from any of its Derivative Rights going forward, despite the over $4.5 billion it has paid WB to make and distribute 91 films. In other words, if Village Roadshow won’t give up its rights, WB will make sure they are worth nothing.”
You can see that portion of the complaint below:
WB is allegedly trying to pull a similar scheme with the Charlie & the Chocolate Factory prequel Wonka. According to the suit, they created a discrepancy with the film’s place in continuity to benefit themselves.
Says the suit, “Recently, after acknowledging—in writing—that its tellingly named upcoming film, ‘Wonka,’ was a prequel to Village Roadshow’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’ WB did an about-face, claiming the prequel was not a prequel and the original picture, ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’ was not one in which Village Roadshow had unqualified Derivative Rights. WB’s tortured excuses do not hold up to even the lightest scrutiny.”
Warner Bros. famously compensated Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins for the streaming release of Wonder Woman 1984 and did the same for Will Smith when it came to King Richard.
The day-and-date HBO Max release strategy had other bumps in its winding thorny road, one of which impacted Godzilla vs. Kong. Though they paid Legendary Pictures, WB did not consult them and a similar motion was filed while a reported deal between Legendary and Netflix was blocked.
A similar situation arose between Scarlett Johansson and Disney Plus when it came time to release Black Widow. She sued the studio for losses and damages due to piracy and though it was resolved, they paid out in what was called a bitter battle.
If the fight between Village Roadshow and WB mutates into one as embittered or is settled quietly remains uncertain.