HBO Max is playing bait-and-switch with its DC superhero movies

In the lead-up to the launch of HBO Max, WarnerMedia put its library of movies featuring DC Comics superheroes front and center as one of the selling points of its new streaming services. Now, just a few weeks after the service made its debut, HBO Max has confirmed it will intentionally remove most of those movies at the end of the month and rotate movies in and out of its library each month.

As far as opening gambits go, it’s a risky one — and it’s already leading to some well-deserved criticism from subscribers.

There and gone

HBO Max launched with an impressive lineup of films from its live-action DC Extended Universe, with Wonder WomanJustice LeagueAquaman, and most of the franchise all available to subscribers when the service debuted May 27. Those films were in addition to the original Batman solo film franchise, as well as popular animated features and one-off movies like Green Lantern and The Losers.

With that robust library of DC Comics-inspired films (as well as popular TV series), HBO Max quickly established itself as the must-have streaming service for DC fans.

Beginning July 1, however, its claim to that title could become a lot more questionable.

WarnerMedia has confirmed that the service will lose the DCEU films Justice League, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Wonder Woman, and Suicide Squad, as well as Catwoman, Jonah Hex, and The Losers.

It will also lose the entire original Batman film franchise, with 1989’s Batman and sequels Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Batman & Robin all vanishing like the Dark Knight at the end of a conversation.

All of the aforementioned films leaving the service currently feature a note indicating they’ll be “Available until July 1, 2020,” after which they’ll depart the platform for an unspecified length of time.

Slim pickings

Just Aquaman and Shazam! will remain from the nine-film DCEU franchise after June 30 unless WarnerMedia adds the conspicuously-absent-at-launch Man of Steel or recent release Birds of Prey at some point in July. The only other live-action DC Comics movies that were present at launch and will remain so in July are the Oscar darling Joker, 2011’s Green Lantern, and 1984’s Supergirl.

That’s not exactly the same star-studded stable of heroes WarnerMedia promised subscribers when the service launched, as many have noted on social media — but as far as we know right now, that’s all the live-action DC Comics movies confirmed for HBO Max next month.

That can and will change, though, according to reports — just not in the way you might expect.

HBO giveth and taketh away

While early speculation suggested the films were disappearing from HBO Max due to prior licensing deals, it appears now that the move is an intentional one.

“We have a collection of DC films that will rotate on the platform,” a spokesperson for HBO Max told ComicBook.com. “We have a new batch coming in July and then another batch coming in August.”

While nothing is official at this point, WarnerMedia apparently has a very different strategy in mind for how it plans to handle content on HBO Max. Deadline and other industry news outlets have indicated that WarnerMedia plans to rotate content into and out of HBO Max on a monthly basis, removing batches of content periodically as it adds other content.

That means that subscribers expecting the more stable, constantly-growing library of a service like Disney+ might be disappointed when they discover that portions of the DCEU and other franchises could disappear from one month to the next.

Naturally, WarnerMedia’s plan for one of the service’s flagship pieces of content has met with some disapproval (to put it mildly) from subscribers. WarnerMedia has indicated that any DC Comics films that leave the service will come back at a later point, but that assurance hasn’t exactly soothed subscribers’ bitter feelings about losing the films — even temporarily.

A risky move

Streaming audiences have become accustomed to licensing issues playing into early content change-ups like this, but that doesn’t seem to be at play with the DC Comics movies on HBO Max. All of the films were not only on the service at launch, but are also owned by WarnerMedia, which has given no indication that they’re honoring prior deals with the films’ removal.

If the content shuffle on HBO Max does indeed come down to WarnerMedia simply wanting to give the service a more fluid, ever-changing library, the service’s rough start could get a lot rougher in the months to come.

The success of Disney+ proves that Disney learned the right lessons from its ill-conceived “Disney Vault” that made certain classic movies unavailable for long periods of time. Sadly, WarnerMedia seems to be going down that same path with HBO Max, and subscribers can only hope the company realizes the folly of its “less is more” strategy before it’s too late.

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