Filmmaker Christopher Nolan has been an enthusiastic advocate for the theatrical experience as the best possible way to watch movies. For two decades, Nolan has worked with Warner Bros. as one of their leading filmmakers. But the director held nothing back when Warner Bros. made the surprise announcement last December that the studio would launch its entire slate of movies for 2021 on HBO Max on the same day as their debut in theatres. Shortly after the announcement, Nolan was quoted in an article in the Hollywood Reporter to say, “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.”
Last week, the other shoe dropped in their fractured relationship when Nolan announced on Tuesday that he will be working with Universal Studios to develop his next movie, telling the story of Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb. Universal agreed to Nolan’s demanding terms, which includes total creative control, a minimum of a $100 million projection budget, a $100 million marketing spend, and a 100-day exclusive theatrical window before the film can appear on-line.
This high-profile breakup highlights the dangerous tightrope that studios are walking as they try to lean into streaming while addressing the creative demands of filmmakers and actors that have the clout to attract audiences.