When Warner Bros. dropped the bomb last week that the studio’s entire 2021 film lineup will get a 30-day HBO Max release window in the US alongside their traditional theatrical release, it took just about everybody by surprise. And I mean everybody. Even the studio’s production partners such as Lionsgate were left in the dark. Rumours are now even swirling that Lionsgate, who put up 70% of the financing for Godzilla vs Kong, may sue WB over the plans to push the monster movie to HBO Max. We’ve already heard how incensed AMC Theatres is about the move, and they may have just cause as in the week since the announcement both AMC and IMAX’s stock price plummeted.
Even within the WB community though, it was mostly only the top brass at the studio that knew about the plan, with a key few filmmakers brought into the fold ahead of time. Some of the people left off that list are some serious Hollywood heavyweights like Denzel Washington, Margot Robbie, Keanu Reeves and more. But there’s one really surprising name: Christopher Nolan.
Thanks to the likes of The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Interstellar, and more, the acclaimed filmmaker has been WB’s golden child for nearly two decades now, spending the bulk of his career there. And earlier this year when the COVID-19 pandemic was raging at its peak, it was Nolan’s Tenet that WB rallied behind to try and get people back into cinemas. That experiment failed badly with the $200 million sci-fi spy thriller only earning $360 million worldwide, which was not enough to break even once additional costs were included. It was that result that probably prompted WB to first announce the HBO Max release strategy for Wonder Woman 1984 later this month, and then do the same for the rest of its lineup. And speaking to Entertainment Tonight, Nolan said that he was in “disbelief” about how this situation played out.
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
Nolan has long been a frontrunner in the fight to keep alive the theatrical movie experience, so it comes as no surprise that he isn’t happy about sacrificing the sanctity of that to prop up HBO Max. Because that is essentially what WB is doing here. Yes, this simultaneous release is a way to get around the fact that cinemas in the US, the world’s largest box office market, are still closed for the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s also about pumping up HBO Max’s middling subscriber numbers.
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.
In a further statement to The Hollywood Reporter, Nolan was even more candid, calling HBO Max “the worst streaming service”.
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. 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.
Do you know who this decision is making economic sense for though? Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins. As Wonder Woman 1984 was the flagship of this new release strategy, it’s no surprise that the star and writer/director were two of the select few people that WB execs spoke to before making the announcement. And according to a report by New York Times, when the studio reached out to William Morris Endeavor and Creative Artists, the talent agencies respectively representing Gadot and Jenkins, both agencies responded with a request for compensation for their clients getting behind the move. After a round of negotiations in which the agencies reportedly argued that their respective clients should get the same levels of compensation had they been asked to do additional promo work in a traditional COVID-free world, Gadot and Jenkins apparently ending up pocketing an extra $10 million each for their support.
I can’t hold ill will towards them for that. You do extra work, you need to get extra pay. Simple as that. But I’m sure there are a bunch of other actors and filmmakers right now even more upset about this whole debacle than Nolan is. WB’s decision was always going to have major ramifications for the future of the industry, but those ramifications may now also included a few burnt bridges.
Last Updated: December 8, 2020