Of course the man who pushed for Tenet to be theatrically released in the middle of a global pandemic would have strong feelings about Warner Bros. giving its entire 2021 slate day-of streaming releases on HBO Max. Especially when the studio seems to have blindsided everyone that made the films in question. Now filmmaker Christopher Nolan is speaking out against the studio that’s been his home base since 2002’s Insomnia.
The WB news rocked the film industry when it was announced on Thursday, setting a new pandemic precedent that many fear will not go away simply because the calendar rolls over to 2022. Movies like Dune, The Suicide Squad, The Matrix 4 and Godzilla vs. Kong may have their flashy genre antics squished onto the small screen for a majority of moviegoers as the COVID-19 vaccine slowly makes its way out into the world. While the simultaneous streaming release will allow us to see new movies without risking theaters, the pandemic has been viewed as an excuse hiding a more cynical strategy: The bolstering of a streamer that had a botched launch.
Nolan’s in this camp. Not only was he in “disbelief” over the secretive way WB went about the decision—Legendary, for example, found out just 30 minutes before WB made the announcement public—but he sees the move as a “bait and switch” focused on getting more HBO Max subscribers.
“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,” Nolan told ET. “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.”
Nolan’s not just mad about these filmmakers losing out on the big screen experience (and what that means for him, a WB filmmaker devoted to that experience), though it certainly plays a part. The other sticking point is that WB did this behind its filmmakers’ backs. “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,” Nolan told The Hollywood Reporter.
Lawyers and agents alike are making moves after the disruptive decision, looking into possible claims of self-dealing and how, exactly, those getting residuals (or even sharing in profits) will get paid in this brave new straight-to-HBO-Max world. For now, all that’s left for Nolan is to pack up and take his business elsewhere—though if he goes, a talent exodus may follow.