It might be time to have a chat with some big-budget filmmakers. In the wake of WarnerMedia’s unprecedented move to give all of their high-profile films for the coming year a simultaneous theatrical release and HBO Max streaming availability, multiple filmmakers (and at least one production company) have come out against the plan. Which, let’s be frank, is silly. It’s one thing to be upset about how WarnerMedia went about it—not consulting, or even notifying, the people who made these movies for you well in advance of making the news public is about the most dimwitted rookie mistake you could make—but it’s quite another to demand people venture out into a theater in the middle of a global pandemic just to see attractive people punching one another. So while we understand your desire for the good ol’ theatrical release, maybe we can all agree to hit pause on it for the time being?
The latest case of someone being a little too annoyed at the move to streaming is Wonder Woman 1984 director Patty Jenkins. In a thoughtful new interview with The New York Times, the writer-director holds court about her new DC blockbuster, including some fascinating discussion on how she crafted the plot and the purposeful way she went about challenging certain narrative conventions. She also talks about holding out to receive the same financial remuneration as male directors who made far less successful blockbusters (“if not me after making Wonder Woman, who should be getting equal pay?”), which is heartening to hear.
But the newsworthy bits come at the end, when the Times’ Kyle Buchanan asks her about Wonder Woman 1984's simultaneous release on HBO Max. After some ambiguously open-ended comments about the decision (“The whole year, I was was afraid of that… But I was conveniently into it for this movie”), she then remarks that, while she would “like to believe” this plan to send all projects to streaming is a temporary move, “I’m not sure I do”:
But I’ll tell you, some studio’s going to go back to the traditional model and cause tremendous upheaval in the industry, because every great filmmaker is going to go work there. And the studios that make this radical change [of moving their theatrical releases to a streaming service], particularly without consulting the artists, will end up with a very empty slate of quality filmmakers working there.
From there, the interview ends with Buchanan asking her if she’ll be back to direct the inevitable third Wonder Woman movie. “I really don’t know,” she replies. “I know that I’d love to do the third one if the circumstances were right and there was still a theatrical model possible. I don’t know that I would if there wasn’t.”
Again, this is a nuanced issue, and WarnerMedia has earned the mistrust of its artists through its lack of communication. But maybe now isn’t the time to be bemoaning the temporary loss of the movie-going experience? First of all, WarnerMedia presumably doesn’t like this any more than Jenkins does. (Okay, maybe people are HBO Max are pretty stoked.) The financial hit the company is taking from this decision will in no way be offset by a big bump in the number of HBO Max subscribers. Those executives want to go back to making a billion dollars at the box office just as badly as anyone involved with the industry. Second, this sky-is-falling mentality seems awfully misplaced, given that there’s nothing terribly new about what’s been happening in the steady shift to streaming over the past five or so years—especially because the one medium that’s been immune from that shift (and will continue to be, once this pandemic’s over) is massive, spectacle-heavy blockbusters. The audience wants to see those on the biggest screen possible, and that’s not going away.
And lastly, read the room. The concerns of people making movies with nine-figure budgets are the least of our worries right now, and while we understand the desire to muse aloud about your concern for the future of the industry, let’s focus on sending everything we have to people’s home entertainment centers for the time being, and understand that the current mission is to do everything in your power to encourage people to stay the fuck at home. If that means releasing Avatar movies two through 13 as an incentive to get folks to stay safe, then James Cameron should jump on that grenade. All of which is to say: If we can get this pandemic under control, there will very much be a theatrical window possible for your big kid-friendly superhero movie. If someone should still have the right to complain about such matters during these times, maybe we save that privilege for directors trying to get their adult-oriented, small-budgeted dramas onto the big screen again.