It’s not a great time to be Warner Bros. The distributor has come under heavy fire from Tenet and Dunkirk director Christopher Nolan, after Warner Bros. announced plans to release its entire 2021 movie schedule on HBO Max at the same time that they air in movie theaters.
The move is no doubt aimed at addressing reduced cinema ticket sales in a time of lockdowns and social distancing, but it has gained criticism for making the decision without regard for the creatives who brought those films about.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Nolan said that “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.”
Things aren’t helped by the fact that HBO Max and Warner Bros. share the parent company WarnerMedia – making the move seem even more like a rash attempt to prop up its struggling TV streaming service, amid heavy competition from Disney Plus and Netflix.
“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,” Nolan added. “They don’t even understand what they’re losing. Their decision makes no economic sense, and even the most casual Wall Street investor can see the difference between disruption and dysfunction.”
Big screen, big problem
We’ve covered similar ground before, with Netflix having released its own movies in theaters and on its streaming service from the same day, as with The Irishman or the Oscar-winning Roma. In those cases, it was largely seen as a way to ensure Netflix films were eligible for awards festivals, though there’s no denying the sense of such a move in 2020 – at a time when many don’t feel safe going into a movie theater.
There’s certainly some added convenience for the customer, but possibly at the expense of a cinema industry losing money to on demand platforms and capable home theater systems.
Universal also made the controversial decision to same-day release Trolls World Tour on streaming platforms, leading AMC and Odeon to initially threaten to ban Universal’s films from its movie chains post-lockdown. While a deal was reached between them, it’s clear that tensions are running high as new and old distribution models come to a head in this very difficult year.