Well, he really did it. According to Deadline, one of the most financially and critically lucrative filmmaker/studio pairings in recent memory has come to an end, at least temporarily, with Christopher Nolan making good on his threats from last week by taking his next film to Universal rather than Warner Bros.—which has been Nolan’s home for nearly his entire career. Nolan might go back to Warner Bros. later, as he hasn’t signed some kind of exclusivity deal as far as we know, but this is still a particularly dramatic development as far as behind-the-scenes Hollywood drama goes. Filmmakers don’t really ever get the chance to marry themselves to specific studios in exchange for a bottomless stack of blank checks like Nolan did with Warner Bros., and it seems unlikely that anyone else will ever get that kind of sweet deal again. Hell, Disney can’t even guarantee that it will keep the Russo brothers happy and they’ve made an ungodly amount of money for that company.
Nolan’s decision to go to Universal Pictures for his next movie is, as far as anyone knows, largely because of how Warner Bros. reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic. First, it (kinda) bungled the theatrical release of Tenet, delaying it multiple times last summer in hopes of some kind of COVID miracle and then finally releasing it before most of the theaters in the U.S. had even reopened. The idea was that Tenet would hang on as the only big movie available to theater-starved Americans, but the country’s coronavirus response was so irreversibly fucked at that point that the reopenings happened much more gradually than Warner Bros. expected and Tenet simply fizzled out after a while (at least in the U.S.).
Then, Warner Bros. decided to release all of its 2021 movies on HBO Max and in theaters simultaneously, and even though that decision has zero impact on Nolan, he was so infuriated by the move on behalf of everyone else involved that he denounced it as a marketing scheme to promote the “worst streaming service.” Evidently, Nolan suspected that Warner Bros. would someday find an excuse to pull that trick on him, so rather than wait for that to happen, he cut the studio off and took his talents to Universal—which, it’s worth noting, held F9 back for an entire year in order to preserve the theatrical experience. (Also worth noting: F9 doubled Tenet’s worldwide box office gross.)
We still don’t know a whole lot about Nolan’s Universal movie, but as we heard last week, it’s going to be something about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the creation of the atomic bomb. Cillian Murphy is apparently in the mix for a “key role,” but Deadline says no specific casting decisions have been made (even though literally anyone could guess that Cillian Murphy is in the running for a role in a Nolan movie). On a similar note, we would also wager that Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Caine, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, and Christian Bale are in the mix, but that’s based on nothing but wild, random speculation.