Warner Bros. drew lots of attention and controversy after announcing it would be releasing its entire 2021 film slate simultaneously to theaters and its streaming service HBO Max.
"Tenet" was the last major film to drop in theaters amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the big-budget Warner Bros. epic definitely did not perform as well as it otherwise might have, failing to surpass $60 million over three months in North America.
And so, as Warner Bros. looks at an equally uncertain 2021, the company announced that they would be simultaneously releasing its entire film slate for the year to theaters and its own streaming service, HBO Max.
One of the studio's most frequent and profitable directors, Christopher Nolan -- who was definitely pushing a reluctant WB to put "Tenet" into theaters mid-pandemic -- did not mince words in an ET Online interview Monday, sharing exactly what he thought about the surprise announcement, which could be summed up with the word "disbelief."
"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," said the director. "It’s not the way to do business and it’s not the best thing for the health of our industry."
In particular, he did not like that Warner Bros. did not consult any of its partners on either side of the filmmaking process, from the movie creators to the theater owners.
"It’s very, very, very, very messy. A real bait and switch," he told the outlet, noting Warner Bros. did not really talk with anyone involved in the film process before announcing their decison. "
"It’s sort of not how you treat filmmakers and stars and people who, these guys have given a lot for these projects," continued Nolan. "They deserved to be consulted and spoken to about what was going to happen to their work."
High profile films from Warner Bros. that will now hit HBO Max alongside their theatrical debuts include the fourth "Matrix" film, "Dune," "The Suicide Squad," "Godzilla v. Kong," and Lin-Manuel Miranda's "In the Heights."
As moviegoing continues to be too high of a risk for many Americans, the studio is clearly banking on recouping some of its investment in these films domestically by boosting their subscriber numbers. Certainly the idea of getting all of their biggest films for the next year is pretty good incentive.
"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," said Nolan.
"They’re meant to be out there for the widest possible audiences," he continued. "And now they’re being used as a loss-leader for the streaming service -- for the fledgling streaming service -- without any consultation."
Nolan was a lot more blunt, and harsher to the company that's released so many of his films including "Inception" and the "Dark Knight" trilogy, in a statement released to The Hollywood Reporter later that same day.
"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," he said.
Continuing to lay into a company he's worked closely with over the past two decades, Nolan 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 is definitely not alone in his frustration with the decision to focus so much energy on the fledgling streamer over film's long-standing theatrical relationship. Legendary Entertainment, the studio behind "Dune" and "Godzilla vs. Kong" is reportedly going to push back hard against this plan. Meanwhile, theater owners have expressed similar frustrations at the idea of losing their exclusive windows to a streaming service.
Nevertheless, Nolan is confident that all of this is just a bump in the road and that "the movie theater experience will bounce back and be a very important part of the ecosystem long-term."
"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," Nolan added. "People love going to the movies and they’re going to get to go again."