Christopher Nolan has been Warner Bros.’ most prominent and successful filmmaker since they began working together 18 years ago. Nolan’s films have grossed $5.1Bn at the box office, almost all of it with Warner Bros. Despite their long and productive collaboration, Nolan came out swinging after the studio’s unexpected announcement last week that it would release its entire slate of films in 2021 as simultaneous release to theatres and HBO Max streaming. The implications of the studio’s “bold” decision are still being sorted out in Hollywood and across the country. Many analysts have commented that the studio’s corporate owners AT&T and WarnerMedia saw this as a unique opportunity to lift the prospects for HBO Max in the high-stakes streaming wars. Currently, HBO Max has only 8.6M activated subscribers (all in the US) whereas Disney+ has 86M and Netflix has 190M worldwide.
However, complications for WB have multiplied since they made their unexpected announcement, with many suspicious about impact to payouts for filmmakers, actors and agents. Exhibitors are aghast that the studio would decide to obliterate the exclusive theatrical window on a single day, without consultation. Warner Bros. execs explain that the change will give consumers more choice on when and where they watch these new, exciting films and that watching them in theatres is one of those options. In the end, it will come down to the bottom line for the studio, and how that settles out is quite uncertain.