The dust has yet to settle in the days following Warner Bros.' unprecedented move to release their 2021 slate of films to both theaters and on HBO Max on the same day. Streaming services have posed competition to theaters in recent years, and COVID-19 has only accelerated the content battle.
One of the few directors who was able to release his film in theaters this year was Christopher Nolan; and with Tenet's upcoming home release on December 15, he's one of the first directors we've heard from following Warner Bros. groundbreaking announcement.
Christopher Nolan is a well-known champion of the theatrical experience; and in an interview with ET, he shared his thoughts about the future of the industry now that audiences will have the ability to enjoy films like Dune, The Suicide Squad, and Matrix 4 at home while they're simultaneously being released in theaters.
The first Warner Bros. film to offer this revolutionary option is Wonder Woman 1984. A film that was projected to be one of this year's biggest blockbusters before COVID-19. When asked about this upcoming debut, and Warner Bros. releasing their 2021 slate in like fashion, Christopher Nolan described his reaction saying,
"Oh, I mean, disbelief. Especially the way in which they did. There's such controversy around it, because they didn't tell anyone. 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. 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."
This reaction isn't exactly a surprise coming from Christopher Nolan, but some of his language about the "widest possible audiences" and the "fledgling streaming service" is.
In addition, his point about the decision being a "bait and switch" and how those who worked on the films weren't consulted is a point of view that hasn't been discussed as much the days following the announcement.
ET noted the long-term repercussions of Warner Bros. strategy and questioned Nolan about his thoughts, to which the filmmaker responded:
"Long-term, I think all of the studios know that the movie theater experience will bounce back and be a very important part of the ecosystem long-term. 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. 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."
Clearly, Nolan is optimistic here about the future of theaters and confident that audiences will return. It's something worth noting from one of the industry's most well-known writers and directors. However, his message does contrast from those who view the Warner Bros. move as something you can't undo once it's in motion.
WHAT THIS MEANS
Nolan highlighted a side of the argument that hasn't been fully explored just yet and that's sure to evolve in the coming months: How will directors, writers, actors, and the like feel about working on a film that's destined for streaming? Will there be a backlash from these artists and creators? How will this change the industry in the future? These are questions that need to be asked and taken into account.
It also seems that Christopher Nolan has a less than positive view of streaming services; but not just because they pose a threat to theaters. His particular wording about how the streaming service is fledgling is a surprise as many would argue streaming services are doing anything but.
In addition, while many would agree movies are often best enjoyed in a theater, some would argue the widest audience is at home through a streaming service rather than in a theater, especially under our current global situation.
Only time will tell how Warner Bros. decision will impact the future of the film industry and its creators. But in the meantime, it's safe to say other writers and directors who expected the standard theatrical release with Warner Bros. will have their own opinions about the changing theatrical landscape.