Warner Bros. took a big gamble recently with their announcement that all of their 2021 feature film slate would be premiering on HBO Max at the same time as in theaters, and the fallout could be higher than they imagined. While the decision is surely a boom to some degree for HBO Max viewership numbers, plenty of filmmakers expressed their distaste for the decision, including several of those currently working with Warner Bros.
The man at the forefront of the resistance to WB’s decision was unsurprisingly Christopher Nolan. Nolan has always been a vocal advocate for theatrical film distribution, encouraging moviegoers to see films in cinemas whenever possible. Nolan spoke to several outlets about his disagreement with WB’s move, especially the fact that the studio didn’t consult with the filmmakers before they announced their decision. Perhaps his most ruthless barb came when speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, where he stated, “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”.
It comes as no surprise then to hear in a new report from the Wall Street Journal that Nolan is “unlikely” to work with Warner Bros. in the future. You’d imagine that even after his disparaging remarks, the studio would have still wanted him back on board as Nolan has been one of their biggest cash cows of the past two decades. WB fosters relationships with a lot of filmmakers, but Nolan was perhaps their most lucrative, with the studio distributing every single one of his films from 2002’s Insomnia onward (The Prestige and Interstellar were co-distributed by Buena Vista and Paramount, respectively).
That means that Warner Bros. not only reaped the benefits of his Dark Knight trilogy, one of the most critically and financially successful franchises of the modern age, but they also combined forces for the groundbreaking successes of movies like Inception and Dunkirk. Whatever your opinion on Nolan may be, it’s impossible to overstate what a rarity those two films were in this modern age of franchise mania, and to lose the collaboration that made them possible would be a major loss for not only the studio and Nolan, but also for filmgoers.
Of course, Warner Bros.’ controversial decision has been speculated to have something to do with the disappointing box office results for Tenet, Nolan’s most recent film which became a hotbed topic as it was the first major film to attempt release since the COVID-19 lockdown began. It’s hard to imagine any movie having much success financially with the state the world is in, and it’s not too surprising that Warner Bros. wanted to try and find an alternative solution for releasing their films. Not telling the filmmakers themselves, though, and waiting for them to find out with the announcement like everyone else? It’s easy to see why someone like Nolan would be resentful about that.
We’ll all have to wait and see what the future holds now. Will this all hold true, and Nolan abandon the ship that has helped steer his films for the past two decades? Where would he go if this is the case? Paramount helped distribute Interstellar, an ambitious original sci-fi picture that earned $701 million worldwide on a $165 million budget. Some have also speculated maybe Sony could be the new home for the filmmaker, as they helped another theatrical distribution devotee release his original property to financial success with Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in 2019.
Beyond the question of where Nolan will go, you have to wonder if other filmmakers would similarly refuse to work with Warner Bros. after this. It’s hard to imagine Denis Villeneuve would ever work with them again, as he’s vocally been displeased with what their plans mean for his new film, Dune. Could some of WB’s other longtime collaborators like Clint Eastwood and Ben Affleck also jump ship? Only time will tell.