[UPDATE: In late February 2021, HBO Max added Banshee and The Knick. The original story follows.]
One of the more confusing decisions to come out of WarnerMedia and the late-May launch of its streaming service HBO Max, which features a library full of originals and films as well as programming from HBO, DC, Studio Ghibli, Crunchyroll, and Adult Swim, was the decision not to include original content produced for Cinemax. In August, a spokesperson for WarnerMedia told TV Guide the decision to keep the premium cable channel's original series library only on the Cinemax linear channel and its online platform MaxGo.com was "based on several factors, including existing deals," though they didn't explain what the other factors were. Then, in September, a source told Vanity Fair that the martial arts drama Warrior will be added to HBO, and thus HBO Max, after it concludes its second season, but there was no mention of any other Cinemax originals making the jump.
Cinemax has operated under the same roof as HBO since 1980, and under the leadership of former Cinemax President Kary Antholis in the 2010s, shed its early, unfortunate Skinemax identity and became a destination for quality dramas and pulpy originals. By not making these shows -- which include fan-favorite action series Strike Back and Banshee, as well as Steven Soderbergh's critically acclaimed drama The Knick -- easily accessible outside of a separate Cinemax subscription (they are available for purchase on Amazon, iTunes, and other digital stores, like Vudu), WarnerMedia is letting a number of excellent shows fall through the cracks and all but disappear as linear Cinemax subscriptions decline (unlike HBO, subscribers cannot sign up for the service à la carte except through Amazon Prime Video Channels, the Roku Store, or Apple TV Channels). This is unfortunate not just for the men and women who put their (sometimes literal) blood, sweat, and tears into these programs, but also for the viewers who loved them. And it's worse still when you consider the wasted potential.
Shows often find second lives once they hit streaming, and while this phenomenon is mostly associated with Netflix because of the service's large, global subscriber base and its ability to introduce viewers to low-rated or previously hard-to-find series -- think the early days of Breaking Bad, The CW's Riverdale, or more recently, Kingdom, the AT&T Audience Network drama set in the world of MMA that has welcomed many new fans since hitting the streaming service in July -- there is no reason to believe Cinemax shows would not have benefited in the same way on HBO Max. There's even precedent for programs crossing brand lines: DC Universe's animated series Harley Quinn made the jump to the service earlier this summer.
From a monetary standpoint, letting a dozen programs produced or co-produced by the network languish away on a pay-cable channel that has seen its subscriber base fall from 15.6 million in 2015 to 7.9 million last year -- a decline that coincides with Cinemax winding down its original content after AT&T purchased HBO owner Time Warner -- makes little sense unless the majority have exclusive distribution deals still in place. And that doesn't seem to be the case (although Banshee was available to watch with an Amazon Prime subscription earlier this year, that has changed). As Soderbergh recently told The Wall Street Journal in a story that detailed how HBO Max sidelined Cinemax originals, "It seems odd, from a business standpoint, to spend $100 million for two seasons of programming and sort of let it disappear."
But beyond the larger financial implications of WarnerMedia's decision to exclude Cinemax content from HBO Max, which together with HBO has 36.3 million subscribers, the reality of the situation is this: Cinemax's original programming was often good, sometimes even great, and there's ample evidence to suggest there's an audience for it. So why is it being hung out to dry?
When Cinemax came on board to co-produce Strike Back with the U.K.'s Sky after the show's first season, the success of the long-running series, which followed a group of elite soldiers tasked with taking down terrorists and criminal organizations across the globe, paved the way for the network to become a destination for top-notch programming. The show consistently featured high-caliber, feature film-worthy action sequences not seen anywhere else on TV, and although the nudity and sex that was a prominent feature of the early Cinemax seasons was more reflective of the network's original identity, Strike Back quickly grew out of that mindset and evolved into a fun action series that regularly exceeded expectations.
And that trend only continued when Cinemax added Banshee, an ambitious and pulpy action drama from Jonathan Tropper and David Schickler that, at times, scored higher ratings than its HBO contemporaries. Debuting in 2013, the series starred Antony Starr (now on Amazon's The Boys) as an ex-con who takes on the identity of the sheriff of Banshee, Pennsylvania, after the real lawman dies in a bar fight the night before he's to be sworn in. The show, which explored small-town power dynamics, organized crime and corruption, and the local Amish and Native American communities, also came to be characterized by spectacularly staged action sequences and knock-down, drag-out brawls. But it was the series' meditations on love, friendship, power, and identity in between the hail of bullets and fist fights that made it one of the best shows of the 2010s.
Building off Banshee's success, Cinemax expanded beyond the action genre with 2014's The Knick, produced and directed by Soderbergh and featuring Clive Owen as a cocaine- and opium-addicted surgeon at a New York hospital in the early 1900s. It won a Peabody Award and received six Emmy nominations, more than any other show in Cinemax history. And the trend of quality programming only continued with 2016's Vietnam-era crime drama Quarry, which starred Logan Marshall-Green as a former Marine who returned home from the war only to find himself as a gun for hire entangled in a crime web that spanned the Mississippi. It was another strong push in the right direction for Cinemax, but it was also the last. AT&T purchased Time Warner in 2016, and amid corporate restructuring the decision was made to pivot back to the network's action roots. Despite pumping the brakes, the network still debuted a number of series in the latter half of the decade that were worth a look: Outcast, a series about demonic possession based on Robert Kirkman's comics, offered a truly scary option for horror fans; crime drama Jett, starring Carla Gugino as a master thief pulled back into a world of crime, stood out for its slick style and direction; and Warrior, a martial arts period drama inspired by the writings of Bruce Lee, put women in positions of power and was one of the few shows on TV to feature a number of actors of Asian descent in prominent roles.
All of these shows have elevated Cinemax's pedigree in one way or another and have revealed that the network can play in the same sandbox as, if not HBO, then at least other smaller premium channels like Showtime and Starz. So it's a shame then that WarnerMedia has seemingly abandoned Cinemax except as a linear movie channel; not only is Len Amato, who succeeded Antholis as the head of Cinemax and also oversaw HBO films and miniseries, exiting the company amid layoffs, no new shows are planned to air on Cinemax after a long-awaited second season of Warrior debuts Oct. 2 (Gangs of London, which was co-produced by Cinemax, will now air on AMC).
There are few places offering the kind of thrills, high-octane action, and pulpy dramas Cinemax became known for over the last decade, and it makes little sense not to give the programs that already exist in its library a home on its parent company's streaming service alongside HBO's extensive library. But since that doesn't seem to be an option, at least for the foreseeable future -- a spokesperson for WarnerMedia told The Wall Street Journal that although the company explored adding the Cinemax series to the HBO Max bundle, they "ultimately decided it was best for the brand and the business to keep the series library exclusive to Cinemax" -- here are all the ways you can still watch your favorite Cinemax originals.
This story has been updated to reflect the news Warrior will be made available on HBO and HBO Max after Season 2 concludes.