For years, HBO has devoted its Saturday night 8pm timeslot to premiere airings of recent Hollywood movies that the channel has acquired. HBO has been the home for titles from Warner Bros., Universal, Focus Features, 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight, and Lionsgate’s Summit Entertainment. HBO has also showcased some of its own original movies on Saturday nights.
Beginning in May 2015, websites including ShowBuzzDaily began reporting the viewership of the HBO Saturday Night Movie Premieres. The biggest out of all of them: “San Andreas” on February 27, 2016, with 2.82 million viewers. “Wonder Woman” (also WB) is a close second with 2.81M on February 10, 2018.
From May through December 2015, 18 of these debuts scored more than 1 million viewers. There were 29 over 1 million in 2016, 31 in 2017 and 29 in 2018. 2019 saw a drastic drop of just 14 film premieres that brought-in at least 1 million viewers. And in 2020: only six. The most recent one was “Ford v. Ferrari”, with 1.12M on June 20th.
The subscriber count of the HBO pay channels has to be dropping – as well as the interest in devoting Saturday nights to watching a film premiere on TV. You have to give people a reason to tune-in. HBO exclusives “Bad Education” (April 25, 995,000) and “The Bee-Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” (December 12, 773,000) were bright spots in another down year for HBO.
December 19th was the premiere of Searchlight’s “Wendy”, which was released in theaters just before the shutdown last winter. The next Saturday, HBO decided to air Roland Emmerich’s classic “Independence Day” (followed by his 2019 “Midway”, which initially debuted on July 4th).
The next two Saturdays (Jan. 2 & 9) saw premieres of recent films that decided to debut on VOD last summer: Focus Features’ “The High Note” and Universal’s “The King of Staten Island”. But they didn’t attract large audiences, pulling-in just 418,000 and 463,000 viewers, respectively.
The next Saturday: a “Kill Bill” Double Feature (averaging 239,000 viewers). Then on Jan. 23, the premiere of 2019’s little-seen “Don’t Let Go” with David Oyelowo (359,000). On Jan. 30, 1999’s “The Mummy” (412,000), followed by “The Mummy Returns” and “The Scorpion King”.
Last Saturday was the premiere of Steve Carell comedy “Irresistible”, which Focus also released on VOD last summer. Its viewership will be revealed on Tuesday. And that’s what’s left in the can… for now. They’ve… temporarily… run out of new Hollywood movies to debut.
HBO has confirmed retro movies for the next six Saturdays at 8pm:
Feb. 13 – “The Book of Eli”
Feb. 20 – “Argo”
Feb. 27 – “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey”
Mar. 6 – First six “Rocky” movies, in order
Mar. 13 – “Speed”
Mar. 20 – “Beverly Hills Cop” Triple Feature
HBO may return to newbies at some point with Universal’s summer VOD thriller “You Should Have Left” and possibly Orion’s “Bill & Ted Face the Music” (because it’s showing the other ones). STX’s “Greenland” is also supposed to be on HBO at some point soon.
Focus Features titles “Kajillionaire”, “Come Play”, “Let Him Go” & “Promising Young Woman” and Universal’s “Freaky”, “All My Life” & “News of the World” should also debut, but it may be a while. (HBO used to have DreamWorks Animation movies, but that’s no longer the case, so don’t expect “Trolls World Tour” or “The Croods: A New Age”.)
It’s unclear if Disney (which used to be in bed with Starz) has taken complete control over Fox and Searchlight films like “The New Mutants” and “The Personal History of David Copperfield” and would want to send them to other places instead of HBO (like straight to Hulu).
And WB’s “TENET” will probably debut sometime in late Spring / early Summer (and may actually get a million viewers). But what about all the rest of the new WB movies that are debuting simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max? Is it necessary to give them a prime time debut on HBO in a few months when the accompanying streaming service already has them?
These are the kinds of decisions that HBO execs will be making over the next several weeks and months, as a weekly, dependable tradition for movie fans seems to be slipping away.