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Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic started shutting movie theaters down back in March, it’s become commonplace to see a movie’s theatrical release scrapped in favor of delivering said movie over VOD or streamlining instead. Last week though, Warner Bros changed the game when it announced that as is being done with Wonder Woman 1984, all of its 2021 movies will be released on HBO Max the same day they hit theaters. Needless to say this is a monumental decision that will likely have enormous repercussions on the film industry, but Tenet director Christopher Nolan, who’s been working with WB for over a decade and a half now, is not a fan of how the studio handled this unique release plan.
Actually, that’s putting it rather lightly. Read the below statement that Christopher Nolan provided to The Hollywood Reporter bluntly summarizing his thoughts on Warner Bros’ decision to release its movies next year on big and small screens simultaneously:
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. 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. Their decision makes no economic sense and even the most casual Wall Street investor can see the difference between disruption and dysfunction.
Anyone who follows Christopher Nolan’s work closely knows how much he values the theatrical experience, so it’s hardly surprising that he’s not enamored with Warner Bros using HBO Max to implement this day-and-date plan. But for him to call HBO Max the “worst streaming service” in the aftermath of this decision is a biting retort, and on top of Nolan feeling that this is a poor economic move. It makes me wonder if this could affect his professional relationship with WB going forward, to the point that he’d want to strike an exclusive deal with a different studio.
In a separate interview with Entertainment Tonight, Christopher Nolan also noted how he’s unhappy with how the studio did not consult ahead of time with the filmmakers and other creative talent involved with these movies about this drastic shift. That’s especially evident with Legendary Pictures, which is reportedly considering legal action against Warner Bros for not providing advance notice about Godzilla vs. Kong and Dune being part of this release plan.
It is worth mentioning that these Warner Bros movies will only be available on HBO Max for one month. After that, you’ll either need to watch them in theaters or wait for them to arrive on home media. Nevertheless, there’s already a lot of speculation about if other studios could similarly follow suit, such as Disney adopting a day-and-date approach with Disney+. However, in the grand scheme of things, Christopher Nolan believes that movie theaters aren’t going anywhere. As he explained later on to ET:
Long-term, I think all of the studios know that the movie theater experience will bounce back and be a very important part of the ecosystem long-term. What you have right now in our business is a lot of the use of the pandemic as an excuse for sort of grappling for short-term advantage. And it's really unfortunate. It's not the way to do business and it's not the best thing for the health of our industry. But when the theaters are back and people are going back to the movies, when the vaccine has been rolled out and there's an appropriate health response from the federal government, I'm very bullish on the long-term prospects of the industry. People love going to the movies and they're going to get to go again.
Perhaps Christopher Nolan is right, though considering how long this pandemic has been raging and how much longer it could keep going, it makes sense to a certain degree why Warner Bros decided to take this course of action. After all, Tenet’s theatrical run (which Nolan pushed to happen as soon as possible rather than keep delaying the movie) didn’t perform as well as expected. The studio also said in its initial announcement that this would only be done with its movies slated for 2021.
That being said, this could be a situation where the metaphorical genie can’t be put back in the bottle. We’ll just have to wait and see how Warner Bros’ movies do next year playing both in theaters and on HBO Max, but even once life settles down on the coronavirus front, it’s entirely possible that things we’ve simply hit a point where a ‘new normal’ will take over in the theatrical realm. For now though, Christopher Nolan is disappointed in how Warner Bros handled this HBO Max rollout, and as laid out by THR, he’s not the only filmmaker who feels that way.
If you missed out on seeing Tenet in theaters or want to watch it again, it hits Blu-ray, 4K, DVD and Digital HD on Tuesday, December 15. Scan through our 2021 release schedule to discover what movies are intended to play next year.