“Success is about creative talent, in front of the screen and behind the screen, and fighting and fighting to create a culture that supports that creative vision,” said Mr Zaslav announcing the acquisition. Over the past year, he’s spent much of the past year refining the studio’s rich legacy, repeatedly paying tribute to Jack, Harry, Sam and Albert Warner, “the brothers who started it all.”
On Friday, Mr. Zaslav in an email to his new employees about his ambitions to “dream big and dream daring”. “Hallelujah,” said a Warner Bros. executive. afterwards in a text message. Another director at the studio, speaking by phone, said she went on a “wild” shopping spree to celebrate, adding, “Hollywood is back, honey.”
Others weren’t so sure. Mr. Zaslav qualifies as an entertainment insider after leading Discovery, a cable television giant, for 15 years and prior to working at NBCUniversal. But he has little film experience. The merger also comes with a staggering amount of debt — some $55 billion — that must be paid off even as content costs rise. Mr Zaslav will have to make difficult decisions about the allocation of funds. How much money should be spent on film production and marketing? To what extent should the studio make films for exclusive theatrical release? Should the focus shift even further to delivering movies to HBO Max, the company’s streaming service?
Under Mrs Sarnoff, Warner Bros. cut its annual theater production by nearly half and built a direct-to-stream assembly line. “The good old days are gone forever,” a Warner-affiliated film producer said Friday.
Hollywood as a whole is in a similar frame of mind: optimistic about the future of movies one minute, pessimistic the next. There is evidence that theaters are finally recovering from the pandemic. Over the weekend, the PG-rated “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” grossed a massive $71 million in North America, the biggest opening total for a Paramount film since 2014, while “The Batman” (Warner Bros.) made $6.5 million in ticket sales, for a blockbuster domestic total of $359 million since arriving on March 4.
At the same time, one of Hollywood’s highest-grossing directors, Michael Bay, sputtered over the weekend. His crime thriller “Ambulance” (Universal) only reached $8.7 million in ticket sales. Another setback was that “Morbius” (Sony) collapsed in its second weekend, raising $10.2 million in the United States and Canada, a 74 percent drop.