Christopher Nolan’s control of Warner Bros. may all be optics.
Christopher Nolan has always been a huge advocate of the cinematic experience. He continues to push for physical film in the actual filmmaking process, and if he had his way, he’d likely push for film projection as well. He’s also been a neverending advocate for theatrical releases. There are countless quotes from the filmmaker about the power of cinema and his desire to replicate the Hollywood experience he grew up with. He likes to create experiences that can only be had on the big screen in a dark room.
So, it was no surprise that he and Warner Bros. were adamant that Tenet received the big-screen treatment. COVID-19 be damned, they would ensure it was released in actual cinemas. Personally, I had hoped they would just push it to next year, but the studio has opted to just push it back several weeks.
Over the course of the weeks where it kept getting pushed, it was hard not to imagine Nolan standing over Warner Bros. with an ultimatum. Almost every other movie out there was pushed significantly, but Nolan’s was treated differently. In the eyes of many fans, Nolan seemed to have a hell of a lot of power of Warner Bros. After all, even if Tenet was a financial failure, there’s no way they’d want to lose him just over a cinema release disagreement, right? But is Christopher Nolan’s control over Warner Bros. actually true or overstated?
“It’s overstated,” Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff told THR. “Let me share with you the process that we went through. Right when COVID struck, we started looking at alternative ways to think about movie releases. On the Scoob! front, we decided to release it on PVOD. Families were sequestered together and wanted more content. We are very happy with the results. A few weeks later it debuted on HBO Max, where we were very happy with the results as well.
“On the Tenet front,” she continued, “we also had a finished movie, which we are very proud for people to see. As the summer unfolded, we started thinking about more innovative ways of releasing the movie. What if we didn’t put everything up front toward the opening weekend? Theaters were very upfront about saying they could give us three to four times as many screens as normal. So that started to change our thinking. We are happy with where we are. Some markets still aren’t open, but it is a marathon and not a sprint.”
While I still very much disagree with this decision — I think the health and safety of people are most important — I can understand this process. Given the new state of theaters, why not take advantage of the situation? The reality is that the movie will likely not make gangbusters over its first weekends. But it won’t have to. It will be the only big new movie in theaters for weeks and weeks. So, while COVID may restrict audience numbers in theaters, this will allow Tenet to succeed long-term, old-school style.
And as far as what they think of Mulan being released on PVOD through Disney+, she didn’t seem to get it.
“I don’t completely understand Disney’s strategy, but they are releasing Mulan internationally in some theaters. I’m rooting for anybody who is getting a movie out. Fans are anxious for new content. I actually went to see Tenet last night in Connecticut. I’m in Bedford, New York, and drove 10 minutes to the theater with friends. And it was amazing. It was safe. There were no crowds. I even found a way to eat popcorn with a mask on. Of course my mask smells like popcorn now.”
So, from the sound of it, Nolan or no, Warner Bros. is all-in on cinemas, in spite of COVID. Do you buy that Christopher Nolan’s control is overstated?
Do you agree with their gung-ho theater attitude? Sound off down below!
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