Space Jam: A New Legacy — the LeBron James-led family comedy that serves as a follow-up to the Michael Jordan-starrer original — is going straight to video-on-demand in India, despite cinemas now open in most parts of the country. That’s a first for any Hollywood studio in India; the Scarlett Johansson-led Black Widow is set to do the same but it has yet to grace Disney+ Hotstar. For Warner Bros., Space Jam: A New Legacy is technically the third Warner Bros. movie to skip cinemas during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Previously, Angelina Jolie-led neo-Western action thriller Those Who Wish Me Dead and critically acclaimed adaptation of the Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights did so, but cinemas were largely closed then.
Warner Bros.’ release strategy during COVID-19 continues to be curious. Space Jam: A New Legacy will be available Thursday, August 19 on Apple TV, BookMyShow Stream, Google Play Movies, and YouTube Movies. That comes five weeks since its release on HBO Max in the US and cinemas globally. With Those Who Wish Me Dead, Warner Bros. India waited four weeks before sending the title directly to video-on-demand. And the gap was seven weeks for In the Heights. There’s no consistency here, so it’s unclear how Warner decides when the time is right. What stopped the studio from dropping Space Jam: A New Legacy a week or two prior? Or in line with HBO Max?
Maybe it once had theatrical ambitions for Space Jam: A New Legacy. After all, it’s an IMAX title. So was In the Heights though, and it too skipped cinemas nonetheless. Moreover, the Space Jam sequel’s box office potential was limited the moment it came out on HBO Max, allowing high-quality pirated copies to flood the Internet in less than an hour after its premiere in mid-July. Space Jam: A New Legacy would have no doubt made more from its on-demand release if Warner had brought it to India then. Those that really wanted to watch LeBron James and Looney Tunes play basketball have likely already done so, further limiting the earnings potential for a movie that has given up on box office money.
For what it’s worth, Warner Bros. is doing better here than other Hollywood studios. Paramount Pictures/ Viacom18 Studios continue to hold onto Emily Blunt-starrer A Quiet Place Part II, even as it’s now available to stream on Paramount+ in the US. It might as well write off India box office at this point. Disney has given up on box office entirely for Black Widow and the Emma Stone-led Cruella, as both are coming to Disney+ Hotstar, and it’s unclear what it will do with the Dwayne Johnson and Blunt-led Jungle Cruise. Universal Pictures is being the foolhardiest, bringing its movies — from Fast & Furious 9 to Promising Young Woman — to the big screen only, despite them being several months old.
There are still opportunities here for studios to show that they truly care about Indian viewers, as I’ve argued previously, but it doesn’t look like they are interested in moving any quicker.