December 8, 2020
Acclaimed movie director Christopher Nolan is not happy about WarnerMedia’s decision to release all 2021 Warner Bros. theatrical releases concurrently on subscription streaming video platform HBO Max. And he’s not afraid to say so publicly.
In interviews with entertainment media, Nolan called WarnerMedia’s decision “a real bait and switch,” contending major theatrical releases are being used a loss-leader lures for HBO Max.
“There’s a lot of controversy,” the 50-year-old director told “Entertainment Tonight.” “It’s very, very, very, very messy.”
Nolan, whose latest release, Tenet, was one of the few major theatrical releases during the pandemic, has a long history with Warner Bros. His “Dark Knight” trilogy with Christian Bale in the title role is widely viewed as the best movies ever in the Batman franchise. Other Warner releases include award-winning Dunkirk, Inception and Insomnia.
Warner is bowing the new HBO Max release strategy on Christmas Day with Wonder Woman 1984. It will apply to such films as the Dune remake, The Matrix 4 and The Suicide Squad, among others, which will be available for 30 days on the streaming service as they play in theaters.
The hybrid model was created as a strategic response to the impact of the ongoing global pandemic, particularly in the United States. Following the one-month HBO Max access period domestically, each film will leave the platform and continue theatrically in the U.S. and international territories, with all customary distribution windows applying to the title.
“No one wants films back on the screen more than we do,” said Ann Sarnoff, chair and CEO of the WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group (of which Warner Bros. is part). “We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theaters in the U.S. will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021.”
Nolan doesn’t care. His belief in big-screen releases, Imax, Blu-ray Disc and 4K UHD Blu-ray packaged media underscore an appreciation of tradition and high-resolution art. WarnerMedia says all films will be available in 4K Ultra HD and HDR on HBO Max.
The director’s clout helped push the Tenet theatrical release over Labor Day in the midst of a pandemic. The movie has made $57.6 million in the U.S., and $360 million worldwide.
Nolan said directors and actors are having their work devalued by streaming.
“Some of our industry’s biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before [WarnerMedia’s Dec. 3 announcement] thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service,” Nolan told The Hollywood Reporter. “Warner Bros. had an incredible machine for getting a filmmaker’s work out everywhere, both in theaters and in the home, and they are dismantling it as we speak. They don’t even understand what they’re losing.”