Director Christopher Nolan has fiercely criticized Warner Bros.’ surprise decision to release its 2021 lineup of films simultaneously on HBO Max, which he called “the worst streaming service.”
“Some of our industry’s biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service,” the director told The Hollywood Reporter. He added that the studio “had an incredible machine for getting a filmmaker’s work out everywhere” but claims it’s dismantling it in a move which “makes no economic sense.”
Although Nolan has long been a fierce defender of watching movies on the big screen, his criticism of Warner Bros.’ decision appears to have a lot to do with how it was handled. The New York Times reports that major agencies and talent management companies associated with the 17 films were kept in the dark about the news until around 90 minutes before it was made public in an attempt to stop details from leaking.
“There’s such controversy around it, because [Warner Bros.] didn’t tell anyone,” Nolan told ETOnline. “In 2021, they’ve got some of the top filmmakers in the world, they’ve got some of the biggest stars in the world who worked for years in some cases on these projects very close to their hearts that are meant to be big-screen experiences. They’re meant to be out there for the widest possible audiences... And now they’re being used as a loss-leader for the streaming service — for the fledgling streaming service — without any consultation.”
Films affected by Warner Bros. announcement include Dune, The Suicide Squad, Tom & Jerry, Godzilla vs. Kong, Mortal Kombat, In The Heights, Space Jam: A New Legacy, and Matrix 4.
“There’s a lot of controversy,” Nolan added, “It’s sort of not how you treat filmmakers and stars and people who, these guys have given a lot for these projects. They deserved to be consulted and spoken to about what was going to happen to their work.”
As well as ruffling feathers with a surprise announcement, Warner Bros.’ decision has also raised concerns about the amount of compensation filmmakers could get for their work. The New York Times notes that many contracts assumed that studios were trying to maximize box office profits, leading to potentially huge payouts for stars who get a portion of ticket sales. Under the new model, streaming subscribers may become a more important target for studios, with potentially big implications for pay packages.
Nolan’s Tenet was one of the highest profile films to go ahead with a cinematic release this year. Although the director said he was “thrilled” with its box office performance, the film reportedly struggled to make much of an impact in the US during its opening weekend. Many theaters across the country were closed during its release, while others were operating at limited capacities. In contrast, other high-profile 2020 films released on streaming services, or were delayed entirely.
Despite the upset, Nolan is confident that people will return to cinemas when it’s safe to do so, telling ETOnline that “the movie theater experience will bounce back and be a very important part of the ecosystem long-term.” But big questions remain about how willing customers will be to pay for cinema tickets after getting used to watching these big releases from the comfort of their own homes.