Why did Christopher Nolan choose to part ways with Warner Bros for his new film?

'Tenet' filmmaker chose Universal Pictures to finance and distribute his biopic of J Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atom bomb

A handout photo of director, co-screenwriter and producer Christopher Nolan on the set of INTERSTELLAR from Paramount Pictures and Warner Brothers Entertainment. (Melinda Sue Gordon / Warner Bros.)
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Christopher Nolan will be working with Universal Pictures for his next film, effectively ending a 19-year relationship with Warner Bros.

The $100 million film will be a biographical drama about US physicist J Robert Oppenheimer, nicknamed the father of the atom bomb for his role in the 1942 Manhattan Project. The film will mark the second time Nolan finds source material in the gruelling history of the Second World War, after his 2017 Oscar-winning epic Dunkirk, which made more than $520m at the box office internationally.

Nolan was reportedly in talks with a number of production companies including Sony, MGM and Paramount before deciding on Universal Pictures to finance and distribute the film. According to Deadline, frequent Nolan collaborator Cillian Murphy will be involved in the still-untitled project.

So why did the Dark Knight and Interstellar filmmaker leave Warner Bros, a company he has almost exclusively worked with since his 2002 thriller Insomnia?

Nolan’s decision to sever ties with Warner Bros did not come completely out of the blue. In late 2020, the director publicly criticised the studio for its decision to adopt a hybrid release model, debuting films in theatres the same day they become available on the HBO Max streaming service.

“Some of our industry’s biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service,” Nolan told Hollywood Reporter in December.

“Warner Bros had an incredible machine for getting a filmmaker’s work out everywhere, both in theatres and in the home, and they are dismantling it as we speak. They don’t even understand what they’re losing. Their decision makes no economic sense, and even the most casual Wall Street investor can see the difference between disruption and dysfunction.”

After the comment, many assumed it was only a matter of time until the British-American filmmaker broke it off with Warner Bros.

His latest release, the 2020 time-bending thriller Tenet marked the ninth film that involved Warner Bros. The film was met with generally positive reviews and made more than $350m at the global box office. However, Nolan’s most financially successful films with Warner Bros was the Dark Knight trilogy, which collectively netted about $2.5 billion in global box office sales.

Updated: September 15, 2021, 10:44 AM