Tenet Director Christopher Nolan Speaks Out Against WB's Decision To Put Movies On HBO Max

Nolan says movies like Wonder Woman 1984 and The Matrix 4 are being used as loss-leaders to help HBO Max get off the ground.


Veteran director Christopher Nolan has shared his thoughts on the decision by Warner Bros. to release its entire 2021 movies slate on HBO Max and in theatres. Nolan, a longtime supporter of the traditional moviegoing experience, told ET that he was in "disbelief" when he heard the news.

He remarked that there is "such controversy" around the news because, as Nolan tells it, Warner Bros. "didn't tell anyone." The 2021 slate, including The Matrix 4, Dune, The Suicide Squad, and The Many Saints of Newark, are being positioned as loss-leaders to help fuel the growth of HBO Max, according to Nolan.

"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 said. "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."

Nolan, who has worked with Warner Bros. for a very long time on films like the Batman trilogy, Inception, and the recent Tenet, said it's bad form on the part of Warner Bros. to do this. "It's sort of not how you treat filmmakers and stars and people who, these guys have given a lot for these projects," he said. "They deserved to be consulted and spoken to about what was going to happen to their work."

Looking long-term, Nolan said he believes Warner Bros. and other big movie studios believe the movie theatre experience will return to normal operation. The moves by Warner Bros. and others to shift to digital and streaming for new releases is a business move to make more money in the short-term, according to Nolan.

"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," he said. "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."

In a separate interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Nolan lashed out at Warner Bros. even more intensely.

"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 said.

He 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."

The new Warner Bros. strategy kicks off with Wonder Woman 1984 on Christmas Day. For what it's worth, Warner Bros. has publicly stated that the plan to make its movies available for streaming is only a "one-year plan," and it won't continue in 2022.

In a statement, WarnerMedia chair and CEO Ann Sarnoff said, "We're living in unprecedented times which call for creative solutions, including this new initiative for the Warner Bros. Pictures Group. No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do. We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theaters in the U.S. will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021."

Some movie theatre chains are not very happy with this move from Warner Bros. AMC Theatres, one of the largest theatres in the US, said pretty much what Nolan did: this move is about subsidizing HBO Max at the expense of its longtime partner.

"Clearly, Warner Media intends to sacrifice a considerable portion of the profitability of its movie studio division, and that of its production partners and filmmakers, to subsidize its HBO Max startup," Adam Aron, CEO and president of AMC Entertainment, said in a statement. "As for AMC, we will do all in our power to ensure that Warner does not do so at our expense. We will aggressively pursue economic terms that preserve our business."

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