Hollywood stars have blasted WarnerMedia’s move to release its 2021 films via streamer HBO Max, while the US company is also facing repercussions from talent and a potential lawsuit from a production company affected by the decision.
Leading the charge on the talent front is Christopher Nolan, whose 2020 movie Tenet performed poorly at the US box office as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Nolan described HBO Max as “the worst streaming service” and told The Hollywood Reporter that the plan “makes no economic sense.”
The director also criticised the company in an interview with Entertainment Tonight “because they didn’t tell anyone” of the decision, adding that many of the studio’s upcoming films like The Suicide Squad and The Matrix 4 “are meant to be big-screen experiences.”
His sentiments were echoed by Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve, who told Variety he was disappointed with the plan and wanted a cinematic release for his much delayed remake of Dune.
He added that films are “being used as a loss-leader for the streaming service – for the fledgling streaming service – without any consultation,” and that the industry as a whole is using the pandemic “as an excuse for sort of grappling for short-term advantage.”
Nolan has historically been against streaming services as a primary form of movie consumption, and strongly opposed any suggestion for Tenet to be released for rental.
However, from Warner’s perspective the decision was informed by Tenet making only $40m at the US box office from a budget of $205m.
Box office revenue has also been a point of contention for a number of actors and creators. The New York Times reports that Warner Bros. reached out to talent agencies William Morris Endeavor (WME) and Creative Artists ahead of its decision to shift Wonder Woman 1984 to streaming. The studio reportedly renegotiated the deals of star Gal Godot, director Patty Jenkins and a number of producers to reflect a potential loss of income from missing ticket sales. The star and director each received a reported $10m increase to their deals.
This payout, the paper says, has had a major fallout itself, with a number of Warner Bros. representatives for stars including Margot Robbie, Will Smith, Hugh Jackman and Keanu Reeves all raising the alarm bells over why they have been treated in a lesser manner to the Wonder Woman stars.
The Directors Guild of America is believed to be mulling a boycott of Warner Bros., and people inside the body have started to refer to the studio as ‘Former Bros.’
The final ripple effect of the streaming decision comes from production company Legendary Entertainment, which co-financed Dune and Godzilla vs. Kong – both set for 2021 release. The prodco is reportedly considering legal action against Warner Bros. over the decision to shift the films to streaming.
The titles between them cost more than $330m to make, and the frequent collaborator Legendary is looking to secure its investment. It is believed that the first priority would be to negotiate a more generous deal, while an alternative option may be for Warner to buy the films outright.
While it would be a last resort, a legal challenge to the Warner move has not been taken off the table by Legendary on the grounds of breach of contract.
Earlier this year, talks emerged of Netflix seeking to buy Godzilla vs. Kong for $250m, but this was rebuffed by WarnerMedia.