What just happened? Warner Bros. is being sued over The Matrix Resurrections, and it's nothing to do with the quality of the film itself (I've not seen it so can't comment). The co-financiers of the fourth Matrix movie, Village Roadshow, have filed a lawsuit over its hybrid theater/streaming release, claiming it was a move by Warner Bros. to attract subscribers to HBO Max.
Variety reports that Village Roadshow has a 20-year relationship with Warner Bros. during which time it co-financed several movies, including The Matrix trilogy, Joker, and the Oceans series.
As with all of Warner Bros. 2021 movies, the Matrix Resurrections was released at theaters and on HBO Max simultaneously to offset declining cinema attendance that came as a result of the pandemic. But Village Roadshow says Warner Bros. did not consult with or notify the company before deciding to put the Matrix Resurrections on HBO Max.
The Matrix Resurrections has barely broken even on its estimated $190 million budget. It took $37 million in the US, the lowest of any Matrix film, and just over $153m worldwide. The Matrix Reloaded, the highest-grossing movie of the franchise, made over $740 million in 2003.
"WB's strategy not only ensured that The Matrix Resurrections would be a bust at the box office, but it also inflicted serious harm to the entire Matrix franchise," the suit claims. "There can be no doubt that the abysmal theatrical box office sales figures from The Matrix Resurrections dilute the value of this tent pole franchise as a film's lack of profitability generally prevents studios from investing in additional sequels and derivative films in the near term."
The suit also alleges that Warner Bros. used the pandemic as an excuse to move The Matrix Resurrections' April release date to the end of the year, thereby creating a "desperately needed wave of year-end HBO Max premium subscriptions." AT&T last month said that HBO and HBO Max had ended 2021 with 73.8 million combined subscribers, beating expectations.
Village Roadshow is claiming breach of contract and alleging that Warner Bros. is also "devising various schemes" to deprive it of rights to follow-ups to other co-owned films such as sequels to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Edge of Tomorrow, writes The Guardian. Village Roadshow also notes that some wholly-owned WB movies, such as The Batman and Black Adam, were delayed into 2022 and will receive exclusive theatrical releases this year.
"This is a frivolous attempt by Village Roadshow to avoid their contractual commitment to participate in the arbitration that we commenced against them last week," Warner Bros. said in response. "We have no doubt that this case will be resolved in our favor."
Back in 2020, director Christopher Nolan slammed Warner Bros.' dual-release plan and called HBO Max the "worst streaming service."