Christopher Nolan Reacts to HBO Max Deal

Warner Bros. Pictures sent shockwaves through Hollywood last week by announcing that they would be giving all of their 2021 theatrical releases a simultaneous streaming release on HBO Max. This includes major blockbusters like Dune, Godzilla vs Kong, The Suicide Squad, The Matrix 4, and more. But Warner Bros. apparently didn’t tell any of their co-financiers, producing partners, filmmakers or stars about this plan before it was announced, and now the studio finds themselves in deep water.

Director Christopher Nolan has long had lucrative relationship Warner Bros. Pictures, but he didn’t hold back when asked about his opinion on the studio’s decision to send all of the 2021 movies to HBO Max. Needless to say, the filmmaker who has long been a champion of the big screen experience is not happy about WB’s new release strategy.

In an interview with Entertainment Tonight in support of the upcoming home video release of Tenet, Nolan was asked about his reaction was to Warner Bros. Pictures’ earth-shattering development. Nolan said:

“Oh, I mean, disbelief. Especially the way in which they did. There’s such controversy around it, because they didn’t tell anyone. 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. So, there’s a lot of controversy. It’s very, very, very, very messy. A real bait and switch. Yeah, 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.”

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Nolan continued to paint a picture with some rather harsh words about HBO Max. The director said:

“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 worst streaming service? That certainly sounds bitter, especially since the HBO Max library is actually one of the best out there when it comes to both quality and variety of content. But Nolan is probably speaking more about the fact that the launch of HBO Max wasn’t handled very well, largely due to customer confusion over the difference between standard HBO, the streaming companion HBO Go, the streaming-only HBO Now, and the new HBO Max. That’s a big part of why they’re making a push to make HBO Max stand out with all these movies.

Even so, Nolan doesn’t see how this is a smart decision for Warner Bros. Pictures. The director added:

“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.”

Nolan isn’t wrong about Warner Bros. using these movies as a loss-leader. Even though this will help drive people to HBO Max, it certainly won’t make WarnerMedia nearly as much money as releasing those movies with a traditional theatrical release without a global pandemic in play. But unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic will make it difficult to get decent box office returns on theatrical releases for at least the first half of next year. After a vaccine becomes available, that will likely change.

Nolan certainly continues to have faith in movie theaters, even if he’s disappointed in the studio that’s been releasing his movies for years. He said:

“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.”

With Legendary Pictures potentially taking legal action against Warner Bros. after not being notified of this release plan for their movies Godzilla vs Kong and Dune, perhaps seeing all these movies on HBO Max won’t be as cut and dry as everyone assumed following the initial announcement. Perhaps this won’t work out as well for Warner Bros. as they thought, especially when it comes to filmmakers wanting to work with them in the future, even if this 2021 release strategy is reportedly only temporary.

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