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Following Tenet Release, How Did Christopher Nolan’s Next Movie End Up At Universal?

Christopher Nolan directing John David Washington in Tenet

Yesterday marked the end of an era for Christopher Nolan’s career. Following the release of Tenet last fall and a report from early this year that the filmmaker was “unlikely” to work with Warner Bros again, it was revealed yesterday that Nolan’s next movie will be released by Universal Pictures rather than WB, which had been involved with every one of his movies in some form or fashion since 2002’s Insomnia. Now details have surfaced regarding how Nolan’s upcoming biopic about theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer ended up at Universal.

You’ll recall that back in December, Christopher Nolan expressed his dissatisfaction with Warner Bros’ decision to release all of its 2021 movies on HBO Max for a 31-day period at the same time they played in theaters, even going so far as to call HBO Max the “worst streaming service.” Needless to say this factored into Nolan’s decision to jump from the WB ship, but the director and the studio were having issues even before that. As a proponent of the big screen experience, Nolan argued with WB about releasing Tenet in theaters, with the latter being concerned about releasing a tentpole picture at a time when many movie theaters were closed due to the pandemic and COVID-19 vaccines were still a ways off.

In the end, Tenet began its domestic theatrical rollout on September 3, 2020, but it only made around $363 million worldwide and, according to Variety, lost Warner Bros approximately $50 million. Cut to the present, because Nolan wasn’t contracted or have any first-look deals set up at WB, it was easy enough for him to look for other studios to house his Oppenheimer biopic, which will explore the man’s role in creating the atomic bomb during World War II. Nolan ultimately agreed to sign a deal with Universal, but not just because the studio will fully finance his estimated $100 million picture.

Along with Christopher Nolan reportedly being promised first-dollar gross and final cut on the Oppenheimer biopic, Variety’s sources claim that Nolan has asked for the movie to have an exclusive theatrical window of somewhere between 90-120 days. While it’s unclear if that request will be fulfilled, supposedly the Oppenheimer biopic will is expected to stay in theaters for longer than 45 days, which looks like it’s becoming the new norm. It will also be exempt from the deal Universal set up with theater chains like AMC and Cinemark that makes its movies available to watch at home on digital platforms 17 days after premiering (31 days if they makes at least $50 million on opening weekend).

It’s also worth mentioning that at Warner Bros, Nolan had a contractual stipulation that no other movies from the studio can open three weeks before or three weeks after whenever one of his movies came out. Apparently he’s asked for something similar at Universal, though there is some “wiggle room.”

As for why Universal decided to get into the Christopher Nolan business, that reportedly boiled down to the studio being impressed with his ability to “spin cinematic gold out of everything from Normandy battles to heady explorations of time, space and dreams.” Interestingly, Universal and other studios interested in snagging the Oppenheimer biopic could only read Nolan’s shooting script from his office to avoid spoilers leaking, and some meetings also took place from his home.

So far no actors have been officially announced for the Oppenheimer biopic yet, although Christopher Nolan supposedly is eyeing Inception and Dunkirk actor Cillian Murphy to be involved. We’ll keep you apprised on how Nolan’s next movie is coming along as more details come in, but for now, keep track of movies arriving in the near future with our 2021 release schedule and 2022 release schedule.

Adam Holmes

Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.