Tenet director Christopher Nolan is leading a chorus of furious protest from the film industry over Warner Bros’ decision to release its entire 2021 slate in the US simultaneously in cinemas and on its streaming service HBO Max.
In an interview with E!, Nolan said his response was one of “disbelief” and that “there’s such controversy around it, because they didn’t tell anyone … They’ve got some of the top film-makers 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 ... And now they’re being used as a loss-leader for the streaming service … without any consultation.”
He added: “It’s very, very, very, very messy … [It’s] not how you treat film-makers and stars and people who … have given a lot for these projects.”
Nolan went even further in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter, saying: “Some of our industry’s biggest film-makers 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] 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.”
Nolan’s intervention amid widespread industry dismay at Warner Bros’ move is all the more dramatic considering the studio has been involved in all his films since 2002’s Insomnia, including the blockbusting Dark Knight trilogy and recent productions Dunkirk and Tenet. The underwhelming commercial performance of Tenet at the US box office, where it took $57.6m after its release in September, is thought to have partly formed Warner Bros’ thinking, but the decision to change the release of all 17 of its 2021 slate – which includes such tentpole offerings as The Matrix 4, Dune and The Suicide Squad – has provoked widespread consternation.
Warner Bros is likely to face legal consequences for its decision, with reports that high-profile production outfit Legendary is considering suing the studio. Legendary has co-financed Dune and Godzilla vs Kong, two of Warner Bros’ 2021 releases, and is reportedly currently attempting to renegotiate their contracts in light of the projected loss of cinema revenue. Dune director Denis Villeneuve is also reported to be unhappy with the situation, having understood the film would be launched on the big screen.
John Stankey, the chief executive of AT&T, which owns both Warner Bros and HBO Max, defended the move on Tuesday, calling it a “win-win-win”. He said: “I know there’s a lot of noise out in the market, people with different viewpoints. Anytime you’re going to change a model, it’s going to create a degree of noise.” Stankey said the move would give customers a “choice”, and the longer-term would be “dictated by what consumers wish to do”.