Hollywood thrives on loud and colorful showdowns in movies like last year’s Avengers: Endgame and the next one Godzilla vs. Kong. The directors and actors have therefore not held back since WarnerMedia declared that it will suspend nearly a century of tradition in the face of pandemic disruption.
Warner is due to release all of its 17 new films next year on its HBO Max streaming service at the same time as in US theaters. Cue outrage, with director Christopher Nolan retaliate this week, the stars “went to bed the night before they thought they worked for the biggest movie studio and woke up to find they worked for the worst streaming service.”
Ouch. Mr. Nolan has a way with words, as well as proper action around puzzling conceptual plots in films such as Start and this year Principle. It might just be bored: Since AT&T took over Time Warner (including studio Warner Bros. and HBO) in 2018, it has focused intensely on boosting broadband and mobile subscriptions, rather than stroking talent.
More than cinematic pride is behind the anger at films such as the sci-fi epic Dune becoming subscription fodder. Stars, agents and directors depend for their wealth on sharing box office profits, as well as paying compensation. “At the end of the day, people want to make money,” John Stankey, CEO of AT&T, observed Tuesday.
But Mr. Nolan is surely right that his streaming lords “don’t even understand what they’re losing” in the effort to catch Netflix and Disney Plus, their more successful rivals. The highest grossing Hollywood films are the cultural and financial blockbusters that are cut down by the small screen.
That’s not to say the television is inferior. This week I watched Mank, David Fincher’s film about Herman Mankiewicz, who wrote the screenplay for Citizen Kane with Orson Welles. Some of the lovely black-and-white cinematography would have shone in the theaters where it first came out, but its privacy was suitable for television.
Much of the drama of the genre that was once a mainstay of cinema has migrated to television, thanks to HBO and Netflix. This is where Mankiewicz’s current successors have become authors and authors of series such as The Sopranos and The crown – while directors make action films, romantic comedies and epics for young adults.
Since Star wars and Superman movies of the 1970s, Hollywood went as big as it could get to entice people back home to pay for the collective experience of watching spectacular action, with booming sound, in theaters. It is aimed at the general public, not connoisseurs.
Globalization has helped the formula work: global box office revenues rose to $ 42 billion Last year. Teens are loyal to long-standing movie franchises such as those featuring Disney’s Marvel superheroes; Young people aged 12 to 17 in the United States and Canada went to the movies 4.9 times on average in 2019, compared with 2.9 for those in their 50s.
Cinema is most in demand in the United States, where box office revenues fell in 2019, even before the pandemic (the United States and Canada only account for about a quarter of global box office receipts) . Mr. Nolan’s Principle was finally released in the UK in August in an effort to win audiences back, but it struggled in US theaters.
The growth of streaming has already made artists less pretentious about television. HBO stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant Cancellation, are leading actors of the genre who would not have been seen dead on the small screen just a few years ago.
It’s easy to see the temptation for Warner, faced with a slew of new releases amid the pandemic and a streaming service in need of help, to seize the opportunity to shake up Hollywood. Disney is release Pixar Soul to 74 million Disney Plus subscribers on Christmas Day in the United States, Warner is not alone, then.
But it looks a little hopeless. HBO Max was a imperfect idea – take a pioneering service with a top notch reputation in HBO and confusingly bundle it with other Warner content. Having only gained 13 million active subscribers, it now wants to release new movies in the same funnel. No wonder the talent is upset.
Movies such as Dune and Godzilla vs. Kong, with Budgets over $ 150 million, are not made for television. They are produced to be events, with huge marketing campaigns and a series of movie-to-streaming release windows to keep the excitement and revenue streams bubbling for years. It may not be art, but it is a profession.
Disney is expert managing franchises, turning cartoon princesses into dolls and adventure films into theme park rides. His western space hit The Mandalorian on Disney Plus is a spin-off of Star wars movies. That the cinema atrophies and that the whole edifice of entertainment suffers.
Warner intends to return to early US film releases when the pandemic passes. But the writing is on the wall: If streaming takes full advantage, the blockbuster as we know it becomes an endangered species. No doubt someone will make a movie of it someday.