Film fans are debating comments made by Tenet director Christopher Nolan, who pushed back against WarnerMedia's unprecedented decision to send Warner Bros.' entire 17-movie 2021 slate to HBO Max. On Thursday, the AT&T-owned company announced its one-year hybrid exhibition model bringing blockbuster titles like Godzilla vs. Kong and The Suicide Squad to the streaming service on the same day they release into theaters at no extra cost to subscribers. Following a precedent set by Wonder Woman 1984, which arrives on the service on Christmas Day, the titles will be exclusive to HBO Max for 31 days before being removed from the platform and continuing theatrically with the customary distribution windows.
On Monday, Nolan called HBO Max the "worst streaming service" when breaking his silence on the decision that WarnerMedia executives called a "win-win for film lovers and exhibitors."
"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 told The Hollywood Reporter.
"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," he continued. "Their decision makes no economic sense, and even the most casual Wall Street investor can see the difference between disruption and dysfunction."
In a December 3 release, WarnerMedia said the innovative one-year initiative is a response to "the reality that most theaters in the U.S. will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021."
This consumer-focused distribution model sparked worries that it could mean the end of the exhibition industry, but WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group Chair and CEO Ann Sarnoff said the move allows the company to "support our partners in exhibition with a steady pipeline of world-class films, while also giving moviegoers who may not have access to theaters or aren't quite ready to go back to the movies the chance to see our amazing 2021 films."
Nolan pushed for the thrice-delayed Tenet to open in theaters over the summer, and IMAX CEO Richard Gelfond reported Nolan wanted his trippy sci-fi thriller to be the film that sparked a return to moviegoing after months of sustained theater closures.
The John David Washington and Robert Pattinson-starring Tenet opened first in select international territories before gradually rolling out in some U.S. cities on September 3, making it the first tentpole film to screen in theaters in months. According to Box Office Mojo, Nolan's latest has grossed $57.6 million domestically and $302 million internationally for a current worldwide total of $359 million — his lowest box office since Insomnia in 2002.
The expected lackluster box office of Tenet, reportedly priced at $200 million, caused one box office analyst to state the film would need to earn at least $400 million just to break even. In November, Nolan told The Los Angeles Times he's "thrilled" with Tenet's performance but expressed concern that "the studios are drawing the wrong conclusions from our release."
"That rather than looking at where the film has worked well and how that can provide them with much-needed revenue, they're looking at where it hasn't lived up to pre-COVID expectations," he said, "and will start using that as an excuse to make exhibition take all the losses from the pandemic instead of getting in the game and adapting — or rebuilding our business, in other words."
Now some film fans are laying the blame at Nolan's feet, saying the Inception and Dark Knight trilogy filmmaker is "the reason that Warner Brothers made the decision they did."
"He f—ed them on Tenet. He forced it to go theatrical and lose millions of dollars," one Twitter user writes. "Any filmmakers who are angry should direct their complaints to Nolan. He caused this."
Here's what film fans have to say about Nolan's criticisms:
"He Caused This"
LOL. Christopher Nolan is the REASON that Warner Brothers made the decision they did. He fucked them on TENET. He forced it to go theatrical and lose millions of dollars. Any filmmakers who are angry should direct their complaints to Nolan. He caused this.— Sameer Ketkar (@BurntMan2010) December 8, 2020
Theaters wouldn't be in as much trouble if people like Nolan hadn't tried to rush films back into theaters. Theaters would be in a much better state if we had kept them closed, and as a cinephile, I hate the idea that to keep theaters open people need to risk their lives. https://t.co/BTYUHBE1aK— AdequateEmily (@AdequateEmily) December 8, 2020
A Radically Changed Landscape
If this was a pre-pandemic world & WB made the shift to a simultaneous theatrical/HBO Max release model, I would support Nolan’s point
The problem is COVID changed the theatrical model for the worse & a full rebound is not likely. Hope they only do this for 2021, but I doubt it.— Sheraz Farooqi (@SherazFarooqi_) December 8, 2020
I love going to the movies and I miss it. But until there’s a vaccine I’ll gladly watch everything I can in the safety of my own home. Nolan as much as I adore his films just comes off as arrogant and a purist when 2020 has radically changed the landscape of film. My two cents.— Chris Barreras (@Gingerdome81) December 8, 2020
A Rude Awakening
Christopher Nolan is one of the greatest auteurs in cinema history and his films are spectacular set pieces......but he's in for the same rude awakening as everyone else that thinks theaters are going back to old normal after a vaccine. He won't survive if he doesn't adapt. pic.twitter.com/9Pe6HyzDw4— TheFliteCast AKA "Testerical Manlet with a Mob" (@TheFliteCast) December 8, 2020
Nolan trying to convince people and studios to release movies in theaters during a global pandemic pic.twitter.com/530sPth1AI— Pablo Leon (@ArtsyPabster) December 8, 2020
"Lack of Awareness"
I get that WBs approach to their HBO Max announcement (in regards to filmmakers) was shitty, but Nolan’s lack of awareness about his own role in making life harder for theaters by refusing any sort of compromise needs to be called out. Not to mention we’re STILL in a pandemic.— Jordan Maison (@JordanMaison) December 8, 2020
How would Chris Nolan even know what the "worst" streaming service is, it's a known fact he only watches films via an IMAX projector hand-cranked by human interns— Phil Nobile Jr. (@PhilNobileJr) December 8, 2020
"Evolving With the Times"
TENET was a test case at releasing a blockbuster in a pandemic. Christopher Nolan encouraged it. It failed. Warner Bros. are now evolving with the times. Sure, they should have discussed this with their filmmakers before the announcement, but it wouldn't have changed their plans.— Doug Jamieson (@itsdougjam) December 8, 2020
Warner Bros. wants to use the pandemic-forced shutdown to put HBO Max on the map. Chris Nolan, whether you like his movies or not, is all about preserving the theatrical experience & the business ecosystem that supports it. Of course they were going to disagree about this move.— Zack Stentz (@MuseZack) December 8, 2020
"Even Bigger Disasters"
Without wading into the larger particulars of the Warner Bros. issue, Nolan is hilariously wrong about HBO Max, which has by far the best movie library of any streamer, and (not that he cares) either the best or second-best (after Hulu) TV library of any streamer. https://t.co/x61cfqo3vc— Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall) December 8, 2020
Ironically, Nolan helped push them here. He basically forced TENET to play in theaters at the peak of the global pandemic and it absolutely bombed because well... pandemic.
Warner's scared to put even bigger blockbusters at only the theaters next year for even bigger disasters. https://t.co/HOISxwC8yu— TRAFON (@RiseFallNick) December 8, 2020
Christopher Nolan: "I'd rather you literally die than watch my movie on a TV." https://t.co/vDjwzGPNYg— Joshua Topolsky (@joshuatopolsky) December 8, 2020
Christopher nolan throwing a tantrum because studios can't make a profit solely from movie theaters right now pic.twitter.com/AelZDT0xqe— Keiley Kaiser (@keileykaiser) December 8, 2020
An Ironic Twist
Didn’t Nolan practically force WB to release TENET mid-COVID so that he could have his theatrical release that only proved that people aren’t comfortable going to theaters?
This guy is something else. https://t.co/pS5e9CaPuG— Walt (@UberKryptonian) December 8, 2020
lol i like watching a movie in theaters as much as the next dweeb but it's funny that nolan threw a huge tantrum to get his movie in theaters during a global pandemic and it went so poorly that his distributor swore off theaters for a year https://t.co/F4hNkCiHIM— aLec robBins (@alecrobbins) December 8, 2020
"Flushing a Year's Worth of Movies"
good job making the discourse about how annoying Christopher Nolan is and not Warner Bros’ flushing a year’s worth of movies to compensate for HBO Max’s hilariously botched launch, well done everyone— Sam Adams (@SamuelAAdams) December 8, 2020
Christopher Nolan explaining how he will go back in time to reverse Warner Bros. decision: pic.twitter.com/zQ83RGzytu— Matt Neglia (@NextBestPicture) December 8, 2020
"A Problem He Caused"
So Nolan is angry that a studio won't let people kill themselves to see his films and he's expressing that by acting like spoiled arrogant brat and all this does is make me want to never see any of his films again. https://t.co/fmTqsTttIk— Erin Biba (@erinbiba) December 8, 2020
Christopher Nolan believing TENET would be successful in theaters during a pandemic vs Now pic.twitter.com/SUe4TRGEKC— Film Daze (@filmdaze) December 8, 2020
Warner Bros: we’re going to release all of our movies on HBOmax. Christopher Nolan: pic.twitter.com/UeRAZGniH6— john (@Mythd_2020) December 8, 2020
"Christopher Nolan looks at a solution to what could very well be a problem he caused and complains about it" https://t.co/XGYgY7jIi0— laine (@lainefoxworthy) December 8, 2020