Warner Bros.’ decision to simultaneously release its 2021 lineup in theaters and on WarnerMedia’s streaming service HBO Max is facing strong pushback from Hollywood, with director Christopher Nolan calling the platform “the worst streaming service” while Warner production partner Legendary Entertainment prepares legal action against the move.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, Warner’s decision blindsided actors, producers, directors and their representatives with the news of the streaming release strategy, a move that some said felt like an insult.
Filmmaker Christopher Nolan — whose movie ‘Tenet’ recently saw sparse attendance in theaters due to the pandemic — criticized Warner, telling Hollywood Reporter: “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.”
Several other directors who have Warner movies slated for 2021—Denis Villeneuve (Dune), James Gunn (The Suicide Squad), Jon M. Chu (In the Heights)—were also reportedly “blindsided” by the decision and are also upset, the report added.
Legendary Entertainment, which has co-produced Godzilla vs Kong and Dune with Warner — including funding 75% of Dune’s $165 million budget — is initiating legal action against the decision, Deadline reported.
A key sticking point for Legendary appears to be the fact that Warner has decided to put the movies on HBO Max without even shopping them to third party streamers after initially turning down a $250 million offer from Netflix to take over the release of the Godzilla sequel.
According to a New York Times report, several of the top stars of Warner’s 2021 film lineup are seeking a compensatory deal for the streaming deal that will see them make less money than they would have through a traditional theatrical release.
$10 million: That’s the approximate amount WarnerMedia has agreed to pay both Wonder Woman 1984 star Gal Gadot and its director Patty Jenkins to compensate them for the loss of income they would have received from a full theatrical release of the film prior to the pandemic, the Times’ report added. The new DC Comics adaptation will be the first Warner movie to get a simultaneous release on HBO Max and in theaters on December 25.
In his statement deriding WarnerMedia, Nolan, who worked with the studio on Inception, The Dark Knight and Interstellar among other big releases, added: “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. Their decision makes no economic sense, and even the most casual Wall Street investor can see the difference between disruption and dysfunction.”
Last week, Warner announced its plan to simultaneously release all its 2021 films in both theaters worldwide and on HBO Max. As part of this plan, new movies will be available to HBO Max subscribers for only one month after their release date, while the movie will stay in theaters for its entire theatrical window. The decision came after a disastrous 2020 for both theater owners and movie studios due to the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns. Many high profile releases have either seen their dates get pushed back or have had to premiere on Video On Demand or streaming services. Disney attempted something similar with the live-action remake of “Mulan” which released on its streaming service Disney+ instead of theaters earlier this year. However, Disney has not expressed any intent to make this a standard model for releases going forward, while and “Mulan” wasn’t free for its streaming subscribers and they had to pay an additional $30 to buy access to the movie.
Unsurprisingly, the strongest reaction against Warner’s decision has come from theater owners who have resisted such moves in the past. Deadline reported that major exhibitors got only an hour’s heads-up from Warners before the announcement and some smaller exhibitors learned only seven minutes before the news broke. Adam Aron, the CEO of AMC Entertainment — the biggest theater chain in the world — criticized Warner’s move which he felt was taken “despite the likelihood that with vaccines right around the corner the theatre business is expected to recover.” He then alleged that Warner was attempting to “sacrifice a considerable portion of the profitability of its movie studio division… production partners and filmmakers, to subsidize its HBO Max start up.” Aron then warned that AMC would do everything in its power to ensure that “Warner does not do so at our expense.”
AMC Theaters recently engaged in a battle with Universal Pictures over its plan to release movies in theaters and video-on-demand simultaneously, announcing that it would not carry any of Universal’s films across their chains. Other major chains soon followed suit, but the issue was later de-escalated after the theaters agreed to new terms that allowed Universal to release their films digitally after a shorter theatrical window.
Christopher Nolan Rips HBO Max as “Worst Streaming Service,” Denounces Warner Bros.’ Plan (The Hollywood Reporter)
Trading Box Office for Streaming, but Stars Still Want Their Money (The New York Times)
Will Legendary Challenge WarnerMedia Over ‘Dune’ & Godzilla Vs. Kong’ HBO Max Move? (Deadline)
Warner Bros.’ 2021 Lineup Will Get Simultaneous Releases In Theaters And On HBO Max (Forbes)
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