Warner Bros. must have known when it announced that its entire 2021 slate would land on HBO Max the same day it landed in theaters that it would cause a lot of trouble, and that trouble is now flowing in. First, movie theaters came down harshly on the studio, and now Legendary, WB’s production partner on Dune and Godzilla vs. Kong, is contemplating a lawsuit over Warner Bros.’ decision. Additionally, Warner Bros.’ biggest director, Christopher Nolan, has come out with angry words against the studio and its choice.
Variety is reporting that Legendary, who financed significant portions of both Dune and Godzilla vs. Kong, was left largely in the dark about WB’s decision to bring its films to HBO Max day and date with theatrical releases. Both those films were set to be massive blockbusters, and Legendary, who has partnered with Warner Bros. on multiple smash hits, would take a chunk of the box office that it would now be missing.
At the moment the studio is in talks with WB for a new, more generous deal, but Legendary is upset that it wasn’t part of the original decision-making process. That deal could be a better cut of profits from streaming or the theatrical release or an all-out sale to WB of the two films. As of right now, Legendary is hoping to figure something out, but legal action could be taken within the week. Of course, we’ll have to wait for Escape from the Law to know if they have a legal ground to stand on.
At the same time, Warner Bros. may be in hot water with its biggest director. Christopher Nolan, who has made most of his films with the studio, reacted angrily to the announcement despite the fact that his film was given a traditional theatrical release that caused it to flop hard. While his complaint is based on the director’s commitment to seeing films on the big screen in traditional formats, his biggest issue is the same as that of Legendary: Warner Bros. didn’t tell anyone about its decision. Reports say that most agencies weren’t told until about 17 minutes before the announcement was made. Nolan expressed the following to ET:
There’s such controversy around it, because [Warner Bros.] didn’t tell anyone. In 2021, they’ve got some of the top filmmakers in the world, they’ve got some of the biggest stars in the world who worked for years in some cases on these projects very close to their hearts that are meant to be big-screen experiences. They’re meant to be out there for the widest possible audiences… And now they’re being used as a loss-leader for the streaming service — for the fledgling streaming service — without any consultation.
Nolan said much the same to THR when asked about the process. The note about filmmakers and actors being surprised by this news isn’t a simple matter. Many filmmakers could see less money since a cut of ticket sales is often part of a director or actor’s contract. By removing some of those sales with streams, their cut of the profits goes down.
Why WB went about it the way it did is pretty much a mystery, but the studio also is recognizing that we aren’t in normal times and it needs to do something differently. Aside from theaters and studios, the general audience concensus on this seems to be one of relief that we get the option to see a film how we want to. The industry is changing, and everyone is going to have to change along with it.