Warner Bros. is feeling generous this holiday season with Wonka, two other releases

Warner Bros. is feeling generous this holiday season with Wonka, two other releases

AT LEAST one Hollywood film studio thinks it will be a Merry Christmas.

Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. is releasing three films in theaters in the closing days of 2023, starting with Wonka, a musical about the fictional chocolatier, last Friday.

The picture, starring Timothée Chalamet, is expected to take first place in US and Canadian theaters last weekend, with ticket sales of as much as $45 million, according to Boxoffice Pro. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, a DC superhero sequel, follows on Dec. 22, and The Color Purple, a remake of the 1985 picture, opens Christmas Day.

No other studio plans to release as many movies this month. Universal Pictures and Sony Pictures are each putting out one film, respectively, the kids animated picture Migration and the romantic comedy Anyone But You, respectively. Walt Disney Co. and Paramount Pictures have no movies until 2024.

“Warner Bros. commitment to theatrical moviegoing has never been stronger,” Mike De Luca and Pamela Abdy, the co-chairs of the company’s film business, said in a joint statement.

That Warner Bros. and its chief executive officer, David Zaslav, would emerge as saviors for cinemas this holiday season is an unusual plot twist. The company angered filmmakers and theater chains when its previous management decided to release all of its major 2021 pictures online the same day as in cinemas.

Mr. Zaslav, a TV executive who merged his company, Discovery, Inc., with the fabled Warner Bros. film studio last year, has earned a reputation for ruthless cost-cutting, including canceling near-finished pictures such as Batgirl. Still, he’s also been a supporter of releasing films in theaters, including Barbie, which became the highest grossing picture in Warner Bros. history this year.

The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the completion of numerous films. Twin strikes by Hollywood actors and screenwriters also slowed movie debuts, partly because stars weren’t allowed to promote them. The industry has released 86 films through Dec. 10 of this year, down from 105 in the same period of 2019, according to Comscore, Inc.

Box-office revenue, at $8.5 billion, is 18% below prepandemic levels.

Wonka and Aquaman II were both scheduled to come out earlier but had their debuts pushed back. Warner Bros. executives said they can reach a broad range of audiences with the three different films.

That would help cinema chains including AMC Entertainment Holdings, Inc. and Regal owner Cineworld Group, which emerged from bankruptcy in July. Attendance has fallen at US and Canadian theaters — from more than 1.5 billion tickets sold in 2002 to less than half that in 2022, according to data from the Numbers.

Other pictures coming out this month include The Boys in the Boat, a sports drama directed by George Clooney and distributed by Amazon.com, Inc.’s Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Ferrari, a biography of the auto-racing legend from STX Films, and The Iron Claw, a wrestling film from A24. — Bloomberg