Confirming rumors that he was looking to leave Warner Bros., Christopher Nolan today inked a deal to bring his next movie to Universal Pictures. Nolan had a years-long and mutually beneficial relationship with Warner Bros., but after a rocky couple of years, he began shopping his next film around, courting bids from a number of studios. Nolan had been working with Warner since 2002, but the relationship started to fall apart in 2020, when Warner Bros. repeatedly delayed the release date for Tenet amid the global pandemic. Both Nolan and the studio had hoped that the movie would be a watershed moment that would drive people back to theaters en masse, but that never happened, and the movie was only a modest box office success domestically.
The as-yet-untitled film is said to be a World War II-era story centering on scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man credited as the "father of the atomic bomb." Warner Bros., Universal, Paramount, and Sony were all in discussions with Nolan.
Deadline reports that the film is set to enter production in the first quarter of 2022. No cast is yet set, although the initial reports indicated that Cillian Murphy would likely join the project.
While it seems like a big change for Nolan, the filmmaker has worked with other studios besides Warner in the recent past. He produced The Prestige with Disney in 2006, while 2014's Interstellar was a partnership between Warner and Paramount, with Paramount distributing the film domestically.
Nolan is a brand unto himself, making movies that routinely cost over $100 million, but turn a profit on the strength of being "the new Christopher Nolan movie." Still, it is not clear what the long-term impact of the pandemic will be on the box office, and so far, it seems many films are struggling to open big in theaters. Nolan's well-known aversion to digital releases could be a problem. Part of his problem with Warner Bros. was that he became upset when they moved their 2021 release slate to day-and-date release through HBO Max.
Even before the HBO Max move, though, the Tenet release was rife with tension -- Nolan was vocal about his dissatisfaction with being delayed, and insistent that it be given a theatrical release to the point that the drew some criticism for ignoring the dangers of the pandemic so that he could screen the movie the way he wanted. This could be seen as an extension of Nolan's exacting technical standards, which limited the initial release of Dunkirk because many theaters did not have equipment and screens that met his technical specifications for an ideal viewing experience.
Deadline reports that Cillian Murphy, who has worked with Nolan on numerous projects including the Dark Knight trilogy, is likely to be involved in the Oppenheimer film. Other details in terms of story and casting are still under wraps.