Christopher Nolan is on the warpath against Warner Bros. after their game-changing decision to release their entire 2021 slate of movies in theaters and on HBO Max on the same release date. He has not minced any words with how he believes the decision is a poor one, but it looks like his own film, Tenet, played a big part in the new release strategy.
In an interview with CNBC, WarnerMedia chair and CEO Ann Sarnoff went on the defensive against Christopher Nolan’s attacks by explaining that the poor box office performance of Tenet was a major factor in the HBO Max release plan. “We learned a lot about the inclination of people to go to theaters when they’re open, obviously,” Sarnoff said. “What we learned through Tenet is that the U.S. is not quite ready yet to fully reopen and have full engagement of fans back into theaters, hence this new strategy.”
Christopher Nolan was an adamant force during the marketing of Tenet, stressing that audiences had to see it in a theater in order to experience it properly. Mind you, this was in the middle of a global pandemic in which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed going to the movie theater as one of their higher-risk activities. And it looks like most audiences agreed with that organization’s appraisal of the situation. Tenet did not even manage to break $60 million at the U.S. box office. With a budget of over $200 million, there is no way to spin Tenet‘s performance as good. Even with its international take of $300 million, it is clear that Warner Bros. learned that audiences are not going to head back to the theater in droves any time soon.
Christopher Nolan was reported to be a driving force in assuring that Tenet would get a traditional theatrical release, even though many theaters remained closed and the COVID-19 pandemic raged on throughout the year. Because of Tenet‘s lackluster performance, it looks like WarnerMedia decided to pull the trigger on a revolutionary release strategy in order to potentially mitigate the financial failure of their upcoming movies.
There is a sort of twisted poetry to Christopher Nolan being a significant factor in a release strategy that could end up changing the entire major motion picture distribution model forever. He has been a staunch supporter of theatrical exhibition, but his insistence at releasing Tenet in the midst of a pandemic and urging people to go see it might have concurrently led to WarnerMedia playing a part in permanently changing the theatrical exhibition model for the rest of time.
It is going to be fascinating to see if the release of Wonder Woman 1984 this Christmas is a big enough success to justify the entire simultaneous release strategy. And will this only apply to the 2021 movies Warner Bros. is releasing or could this be the standard moving forward as far as their company is concerned? No matter what, it sounds like Christopher Nolan played some role in what led to a truly historic shift in major motion picture distribution. One wonders how that makes him feel.