Free Guy won’t stream on HBO Max soon, sorry

HBO Max streams new movies from Warner Bros. the same day they’re released in theaters. 

Angela Lang/CNET

This year, all year, HBO Max is streaming new, theatrically released movies at no extra charge the same day each film hits US theaters. But next weekend’s biggest release — Free Guy, about a bank teller who realizes he’s a non-player character in a video game — won’t be available to stream on HBO Max, or anywhere at first for that matter. (But Free Guy will land at HBO Max eventually.)

That’s because HBO Max is streaming only Warner Bros. movies the same day. The latest of these just dropped: The Suicide Squad is available to stream there now. But Free Guy is distributed by 20th Century Studios, part of the Disney empire. 

HBO Max made waves last year when it announced that it would stream new, theatrically released movies from the studio Warner Bros. at no extra charge the same day they hit the big screen during 2021. That includes Space Jam: A New Legacy, and upcoming releases The Suicide SquadDune and The Matrix 4. But it also means other movies from any other studio won’t.

That’s sparking some misguided hope among moviegoers when any new movie hits theaters. Without knowing the studio distributing that new flick, lots of people get curious that maybe it’s one of the movies available on HBO Max too. 

Warner Bros. movies have the direct pipeline to Max because HBO Max and Warner Bros. are both owned and operated by AT&T‘s WarnerMedia. They’re siblings, essentially.

But it’s worth noting that this hybrid strategy is unique to Warner Bros. and HBO. No other Hollywood studios are being this aggressive in putting this many movies (including megabudget blockbusters) on a streaming service immediately at no extra charge. 

The hybrid release strategy is so aggressive, in fact, that WarnerMedia is ending it after 2021. Starting in 2022, Warner Bros. movies are expected to have a 45-day window exclusively in theaters before moving to other formats like online rentals and HBO Max. However, that theatrical window will be much shorter than it was before the pandemic. 

Is Free Guy going to stream on HBO Max on its release date? 

Nope. Because Free Guy is distributed by 20th Century Studios, part of Disney, it’s not destined for Max now or anytime soon. Disney is giving Free Guy 45 days in theaters exclusively starting Aug. 13, so it won’t be available to stream anywhere while it’s in theaters. 

But the first place you will be able to stream Free Guy will be HBO Max, just not for months. Film licensing is complicated, and HBO locked up the rights to be the first place to stream 20th Century movies years ago. Even though Disney owns streaming services Disney Plus and Hulu, and one or both of them may stream Free Guy eventually, HBO Max will be the first streaming service to get its hands on the movie. 

However, HBO Max isn’t expected to start streaming it until roughly six to nine months after its theatrical release. 

What about other movies out now? Is The Green Knight streaming on Max? Jungle Cruise? 

No, The Green Knight is distributed by A24, and it’s another theatrical exclusive. Earlier in the pandemic, A24 did hold some virtual screenings at the same time as physical ones for its film Minari, which was an Oscar contender. But A24 hasn’t experimented with virtual screenings for any other titles. 

Jungle Cruise isn’t on Max, but it is available to stream over on Disney Plus. As part of Disney Plus’ Premier Access model, Jungle Cruise (and Black Widow, for that matter) are available for Disney Plus members to stream if they pay an extra $30 fee on top of the regular cost of their subscriptions.  

OK, so what new movies can I stream on HBO Max while they’re in theaters? 

All these titles will be available on HBO Max the same day they hit theaters in the US. 

Generally, most of the new Warner Bros. movies become available to stream on Max at 12:01 a.m. PT/3:01 a.m. ET on the day of their release. But the arrival timing for other movies may vary, depending on when the first cinematic screenings take place at theaters. Wonder Woman 1984, for example, became available at 9 a.m. PT/noon ET on Dec. 25 because that was the earliest theaters were open that day. The Suicide Squad is in the same boat, arriving on the service at an atypical time. 

All Warner Bros. movies released in this “hybrid” model on HBO Max will be available to watch in 4K Ultra HD resolution and HDR image quality, even though those formats aren’t yet standard for the full Max library.

Several movies have already come and gone, including Mortal Kombat and Godzilla vs. Kong. But all these Warner Bros. movies will return to HBO Max to stream a few months after their release. Wonder Woman 1984, for example, is back on HBO Max to stream, after it left the service in January during its theatrical window. 

But 2021 is planned to be the only year for this phenomenon of streaming new big-screen movies on HBO Max as soon as they hit theaters. Warner Bros. has said that 10 movies produced by the studio will go directly to HBO Max in 2022, but big franchise movies will have 45 days in theaters exclusively without any streaming option during that time starting next year.

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