Here's what we know about Canadian availability for the comedy starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti.
Roald Dahl's The Witches, starring Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, and Stanley Tucci, is a 2020 remake of the 1990 film based on the 1983 children's novel. It was originally intended to be released in movie theatres on October 9, 2020 by Warner Bros. Pictures, but by June 2020 it had been pulled from the release schedule entirely due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On October 2, Warner Bros. announced a new plan: The Witches would instead be released on its sibling streaming service, HBO Max, at no additional cost for subscribers to that service, starting Thursday, October 22.
However, since HBO Max is currently only available in the United States, and since cinemas have reopened in much of the rest of the world, Warner Bros. said as part of the same announcement that The Witches would be released in theatres "internationally beginning [Wednesday] October 28".
Cineplex and Landmark, the two biggest circuits serving English Canada, have now indicated that The Witches will begin playing in Canadian theatres on Friday, November 20, 2020. Note that this has not yet been confirmed by Warner Bros.' Canadian website or social media accounts, and in any event this is subject to change (as has been the case with many theatrical releases this year), but postings from these two movie theatre companies is probably the next best thing to official confirmation. (Thanks to Twitter reader Ryan D. for pointing us to this information.)
Will "The Witches" be released on Crave in Canada?
Our expectation is The Witches will be available on Crave, eventually. Based on Warner Bros.' current theatrical release plans, in all likelihood, this streaming release will be no earlier than late summer 2021.
Because The Witches is being released in Canadian theatres, this would not be under Crave's output deal for HBO Max originals, but rather under a separate (though related) output arrangement that Crave has for Warner Bros. theatrical movies.
Bell Media's Crave streaming service (specifically the Movies + HBO tier, previously known as The Movie Network or TMN) has a longstanding output relationship with Warner Bros. for the first pay TV (or subscription streaming) window for theatrical films – sometimes called "pay-1" in the industry.
Essentially this means that for any film released theatrically by Warner Bros. in Canada, around eight to ten months later that film will become available on Crave, and moreover Crave will be the only pay TV or subscription streaming service (i.e., not including individual short-term rentals from stores like iTunes, Google Play or Amazon) carrying the English-language version of that film for an extended period. For most recent Warner Bros. films, Crave's exclusive window has typically lasted a year or more, followed immediately by a window on Netflix Canada for several more months.
To give one recent example, Warner Bros.' Crazy Rich Asians was released in Canadian cinemas on August 15, 2018. It was then made available on Crave on April 19, 2019 – about eight months later – and left the service on July 5, 2020, immediately moving to Netflix on July 6.
As a slightly more recent example, the Warner Bros.-released film Just Mercy arrived in North American theatres on December 25, 2019. It then became available on Crave on September 12, 2020 – just over eight months later.
We expect that The Witches would follow a similar pattern, meaning that based on the scheduled November 20, 2020 release date in Canada, it'll probably arrive on Crave in mid-to-late 2021. After that, again assuming that past patterns hold up, it would likely move to Netflix Canada around October or November 2022.
In the meantime, shortly after it leaves theatres, it'll likely be released as well for rental or purchase on digital stores like iTunes, as alluded to above.
Why isn't "The Witches" being released on Crave now?
In light of its longstanding relationship with WarnerMedia, it would be fair to ask why Crave would not end up with similar rights, and on a similar timeframe, to what HBO Max will be getting in the United States.
Warner Bros. hasn't commented on exactly why, but as best we can tell, there are two big factors that likely drove this decision.
One: Like other movie studios, Warner Bros. makes the largest chunk of its money for its movies from theatrical releases – in other words, getting people to go to a theatre and pay for tickets. Given how the public health situation has evolved differently in both Canada (where theatres in most areas have stayed open, though at reduced capacity, since the summer) and the United States (where some national chains are now temporarily closed again), it's not all that surprising that a few studios like WB and Paramount have decided it would be worthwhile trying to release in cinemas in Canada, even if they can't release nationwide in the U.S.
Two: Because HBO Max and Warner Bros. are part of a single company (AT&T / WarnerMedia), it's much simpler for the two divisions to work together on making a change like this on (apparently) a few weeks' notice. Moving a major release like The Witches might involve some money changing hands on paper between divisions, but ultimately all of those funds stay within AT&T.
On the other hand, if Crave had wanted to do something similar in Canada, whatever money would be involved would have to be transferred between Bell Media and WarnerMedia as part of a new agreement, and it'd take to time to negotiate so both sides were comfortable with the price of the deal.
- October 22, 2020 – also now confirmed by Landmark
- October 18, 2020 – updated with apparent confirmation of Canadian theatrical release date (and corresponding changes to other sections)