The status of the break-up between Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros. appears to be veering ever-closer to Facebook official—is that still a thing? We can’t imagine that’s still a thing—this week, as THR reports that both Universal and Sony are apparently courting the director to produce his next film. This comes after a number of extremely public spats between Nolan and Warner, the studio he’s spent most of his career at, despite never being locked down in any kind of first-look deal. Most of these stem from the fact that Nolan has been one of the loudest voices out there about his desire to have his big, meticulously shot blockbusters shown in theaters, which led to plenty of problems when Warner Bros. was trying to fit Tenet onto screens last fall, when the COVID pandemic was still at its un-vaccinated heights. The film’s $363 million box office take, while certainly better than it could have been, considering, was still the lowest one that one of Nolan’s films has scored since The Prestige. Any issues from said performance were then exacerbated when Nolan heavily critiqued the studio’s plans to use its suddenly accumulating library of un-releasable films as lures to get people to try out “worst streaming service” HBO Max, often without the buy-in or consent of those film’s directors.
All of which has understandably had the other major studios sniffing around: There aren’t all that many billion-dollar directors running around with household name recognition and some measure of artistic credibility, to be had for a promise that you’ll actually put his movie into theaters, please. (Also, a couple of hundred million dollars in budget, but the theater thing seems to be really sticking in Nolan’s craw.)
Per THR, Nolan’s latest doesn’t actually sound all that flashy, give or take a nuclear bomb or two: It’s apparently centered on Robert Oppenheimer, Mr. “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds” himself. (We’ve always been more partial to Ken Bainbridge’s “Now we are all sons of bitches” as far as nuke test one-liners go.) And, to be fair, Warner Bros. hasn’t been cut out of negotiations by any measure. It’s just in the unfamiliar position of having to actually campaign to get a Nolan film under its belt, a surprising state after almost 20 years of near-constant collaboration. (He made The Prestige for Disney, while Paramount had a piece of Interstellar, but otherwise it’s been a solid run since 2002.) THR says that Warner, Sony, Paramount, and Universal are all in talks to potentially secure rights for the film, accounting for 4/5ths of the major studios. (Disney, the other studio that’s pushed hardest on hybrid releases, is notably absent, although that might be as much about culture clash with the film’s subject material as financial concerns.) Nolan might be something of a crank when it comes to ignoring the fact that a lot of people are still struggling with the comfort of going back to theaters. But his status in the industry is undeniable: It’s going to be fascinating to see which way he jumps, and which big business mating display is going to successfully catch his eye.