And I suspect not the last.
Christopher Nolan’s Tenet was released in 2020 to high expectations, after all he not only made Batman viable again – after Joel Schumacher ran the franchise to the ground – but directed tentpoles like Inception (2010) and Dunkirk (2017) for the studio (Inception (2014) was released via Warner Bros and Paramount).
Though the coronavirus pandemic happened and studios began to look for ways to produce movies profitably since they could no longer depend on theatrical releases.
It’s worth mentioning that studios that lacked streaming platforms, like Sony and Universal, seemed to weather the pandemic better than those that did because they not only didn’t have to spend billions to establish streaming networks in the first place they had the option of entering into deals with studios like Netflix or Amazon.
They could also push back releases – like Sony has often done with Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) – if they thought the pandemic would imperil them.
In any case, Warner Bros decided on a dual release strategy: releasing their movies on their streaming platform, HBOMax, at the same time they premiered in theaters.
While I think it’s fairly obvious that studios had to do something to address the blockage of a crucial part of their revenue stream the question is what Warner Bros ended up doing (The Walt Disney Company also released movies via it’s steaming channel Disney+ though what they did differently was create an option called ‘Premiere Access,’ which charged subscribers $29.99), which was essentially giving their movies free to HBOMax, the right call.
It’s worth mentioning that even though Disney at least attempted to compensate for lost revenue due to the pandemic it by no means made them immune to legal challenges to their strategy.
Does this have anything to do with with Christopher Nolan’s latest project, a movie about World War II nuclear scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, being released via Universal?
I don’t know for certain but I wouldn’t rule it out though what surprises me is not that Nolan may be moving to another studio, but that other directors aren’t following suit because Warner Bros, by releasing their entire 2021 slate via HBOMax, not only deprived viewers of the theatrical experience – because let’s be honest: how many people if given the option are going to even consider going to the theater when they could sit and watch the same movie for free at home – but seemingly mislead directors.
In fact, there’s only one instance I’m aware of where Warner Bros compensated it’s creatives for their dual release strategy, and that’s in the case of Wonder Woman 1984 (2020).
Which is why I don’t think Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit against Walt Disney will be the last.