“Success means creative talent, both in front of and behind the screen, and struggling and struggling to create a culture that supports that creative vision,” said Mr. Zaslav when announcing the acquisition. For much of the past year, he has gushed about the studio’s rich heritage, repeatedly paying tribute to Jack, Harry, Sam and Albert Warner, “the brothers who started it all.”
On Friday, in an email sent to his new employees, Mr. Zaslav spoke about his aspirations to “dream big and bold dreams”. “Hallelujah,” a Warner Bros. executive said in a text message afterwards. Another exec at the studio said on the phone she was going on a “wild” shopping spree to celebrate, adding, “Hollywood is back baby.”
Others weren’t so sure. Mr. Zaslav is considered an entertainment insider as he ran Discovery, a cable television giant, for 15 years and before that worked at NBCUniversal. But he has little film experience. The merger also comes with a staggering debt — around $55 billion — that will have to be repaid even as content costs soar. Mr. Zaslav will have to make tough decisions about resource allocation. How much money should be spent on film production and marketing? To what extent should the studio produce films for exclusive theatrical release? Should the focus shift even further to delivering movies to HBO Max, the company’s streaming service?
Under Ms. Sarnoff, Warner Bros. cut its annual theatrical production by almost half and built a direct-to-streaming assembly line. “The good old days are gone forever,” a Warner-affiliated film producer said Friday.
Hollywood as a whole is in a similar mood: optimistic about the future of film one minute, pessimistic the next. There are indications that cinemas are finally recovering from the pandemic. Over the weekend, PG-rated Sonic the Hedgehog 2 grossed a whopping $71 million in North America, the highest opening gross for a Paramount film since 2014, while The Batman (Warner Bros.) grossed $6.5 million. Dollars in tickets added total domestic sales for a blockbuster of $359 million since its March 4 arrival.
At the same time, one of Hollywood’s most bankable directors, Michael Bay, stuttered over the weekend. His crime thriller “Ambulance” (Universal) only grossed $8.7 million in box office. In another bummer, “Morbius” (Sony) collapsed on its second weekend, raising $10.2 million in the United States and Canada, down 74 percent.