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HBO Max isn’t streaming Shang-Chi, Candyman or Free Guy


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

Angela Lang/CNET

HBO Max has become synonymous with streaming new theatrical movies, thanks to an unprecedented number of films streaming there at no extra cost the same day they hit US cinemas. But don’t come to HBO Max this weekend hoping to watch the three latest big movies that hit theaters. Neither Marvel‘s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the horror sequel Candyman nor video-game comedy Free Guy are available to stream on HBO Max. But this weekend is your last chance to stream The Suicide Squad before it disappears from HBO Max for months. 

That’s because the only movies HBO Max streams while they’re still in theaters are Warner Bros. movies . The Suicide Squad, a WB movie, is finishing up its initial HBO Max run late Sunday. But Shang-Chi, Candyman and Free Guy are distributed by other companies. (But Candyman and Free Guy will land at HBO Max, eventually, and Shang-Chi is destined to stream at Disney Plus in about a month and a half.)

HBO Max made waves last year when it announced that it would stream new, theatrically released movies from Warner Bros. studios at no extra charge the same day they hit the big screen during 2021. That included Godzilla vs. Kong, In the Heights and Space Jam: A New Legacy earlier this year, as well as upcoming releases Dune and The Matrix 4. The latest two WB movies, The Suicide Squad and Reminiscence, are streaming on HBO Max now.  

But it also means movies from any other studio won’t be on Max same day. 

The strategy is causing 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 ones) 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 Marvel’s Shang-Chi available to stream on HBO Max? 

No. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is available only in cinemas, starting Friday. But it will be available to stream elsewhere, at Disney Plus, about a month and a half after its theatrical release. 

Shang-Chi is getting Disney back to the pre-pandemic norm of theatrical exclusives. It’ll be the first Marvel movie released only in theaters since Sony’s Spider-Man: Far from Home came out in July 2019. 

However, Shang-Chi is expected to land on Disney Plus to stream in mid-October, likely at no added cost for subscribers. 

For more details, CNET has a dedicated explainer on the specifics of Shang-Chi’s release

Is Candyman available to stream on HBO Max or Netflix? 

No, Candyman, distributed by Universal, is available only in theaters. 

But HBO has what’s known as a pay-one licensing deal with Universal, which means HBO is the first place Universal’s movies are shown on TV or streaming services. But they won’t reach HBO and HBO Max until after the films have already been available first in theaters, then as online rentals and finally on Blu-ray and DVD for sale. Typically, these pay-one movies tend to be released to streaming about nine months after theatrical release, but no date for Candyman has been announced yet. 

Regardless, it means HBO Max is on track to get them to stream first before any other services, sometime next year.

When is Free Guy’s streaming release? 

Free Guy isn’t streaming anywhere for now. And because Free Guy is distributed by 20th Century Studios, part of Disney, it’s not destined for Max nor Netflix 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 cinemas. 

But the first place you’ll be able to stream Free Guy is likely to be HBO Max, just not for months. Disney owns 20th Century, Free Guy’s distributor, and yes, Disney owns streaming services Disney Plus and Hulu. But film licensing is complicated. Years ago, HBO locked up the rights to be the first place that streams 20th Century movies. So HBO Max will be the first streaming service to get Free Guy, because of the pre-existing licensing arrangement, even though Disney has owned 20th Century for years now. 

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

What about other movies out now? Is The Green Knight streaming? Jungle Cruise? Paw Patrol? 

None of those are on Max, but there are ways to stream them. 

The Green Knight is distributed by A24, was a theatrical exclusive for weeks. After streaming a one-night-only virtual screening, it has moved on to online rentals now. It’s unclear when or where it’ll be available to stream with a subscription. 

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.  

Paw Patrol: The Movie, from Nickelodeon, is available to stream on Paramount Plus. Unlike most streamings services of its scope, Paramount Plus offers a seven-day free trial for new signups. 

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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