Christopher Nolan’s new contract for his next film at Universal includes many important requirements, but it just might provide a roadmap for the future of the theatrical experience. The post-pandemic box office is slow to fully recover and streaming revenue is replacing it quickly, but that doesn’t mean the theatrical experience is dead just yet, and Nolan’s Universal Agreement shows a way to keep it going. desire.
After the tensions between Nolan and Warner Bros. about the pandemic release of Principle and the decision of Warner Bros. to release every movie in theaters of 2021 on HBO Max, Nolan’s relationship with WB has hit rock bottom, saying “Some of the greatest filmmakers in our industry and the most important movie stars went to bed the night before they thought they were working for the biggest movie studio and woke up to find they were working for the worst service. streaming. ” As such, the move to Universal for Nolan’s upcoming film about the inventor of the atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer, can be seen not only as a repudiation of his former home studio for 19 years, but also as an attempt to prove the legacy of the theatrical experience can live on after the pandemic.
The filmmaker certainly benefits from the elaborate deal he made with Universal, but it also includes provisions to ensure the film has the best chance of success, which ultimately benefits the studio. If successful, Nolan’s next film and his deal with Universal could point the way to the rest of the industry.
The theatrical experience as we know it is dead
Theater attendance has been declining for decades, even as total box office revenues increased due to price increases and inflation. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, films were delayed and most theaters closed, with the few that remained open operating with limited capacity and without a constant supply of big news. Meanwhile, audiences and studios turned to streaming, which was already a growing trend, exacerbating the problem for theaters as audiences now stayed home and watched big studio movies from popular franchises in the world. comfort of his home.
The box office has since started to recover, although it is still far from pre-pandemic levels, with many films seeing only a fraction of the pre-pandemic box office. Despite a number of proportional wins, the best box office performances of the year would have been considered underwhelming in 2019. The trend to abandon theaters and streaming is not going to stop just because theaters are. reopened, especially with shorter theatrical exclusive windows negotiated because of the pandemic.
Post-pandemic box office proves theaters can survive
The fact that films like F9, Black Widow, and Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings doing as well as they are proves that there is still an appetite to see great movies on the big screen, but the poor results of other movies like The suicide squad and Space Jam: a new legacy says there just isn’t that much room in the market right now and the audience is more selective. For the theatrical experience to survive long term, it will have to adapt to this new reality, and Christopher Nolan’s deal with Universal is a big step in that direction.
The cinema market does not recover as long as it evolves. Based on current numbers, a healthy box office model means a more specialized market with low budget movies released less frequently. This model is reminiscent of what theaters were a few decades ago. With much less competition from week to week, movies like AND the alien won the No. 1 spot at the box office six weeks in a row after its June 1982 release, and even after that it fluctuated between the first and second highest grossing movies each week for several more months. This kind of performance is unprecedented by today’s standards, where there are just too many major releases to give a single film that kind of breathing space.
While Marvel and Star wars and other big IP addresses focus on streaming (and have been since before the pandemic), cinemas can revert to more traditional tent-focused businesses where big-screen prestige comes from a more exclusive offering and longer theatrical releases, which means for the movies to be successful they will have to be real event movies that people know they have to see on the big screen with a crowd and not just a flavor of the blockbuster of the week, that streaming has shown it can handle very well.
Nolan’s Universal Accord is a blueprint for the future of cinema
Much of the focus on Nolan’s deal with Universal has been on the importance of his demands, but in reality he’s not just using his influence as a leading filmmaker to ensure the success of his own film, but shows theaters and studios the way forward. Nolan’s deal would include full creative control, roughly $ 100 million budget, $ 100 million in marketing, 20% of the first gross dollar, Universal can’t release any other movies for three weeks before or after their movie. , and his film will be released in theaters. exclusively for 100 days (and possibly longer) before streaming.
As we see with the 2021 box office, there is enough demand to support big releases, but for that to be sustainable, releases like the one Nolan brokered could be much more successful. While the odds seem against the box office to produce well over billions of dollars in revenue in the near future, the kind of box office numbers that benefit F9, Black Widow, and Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings are more than enough to make a film profitable with a budget of $ 100 million (about half the cost of Principle), especially if it benefits from less competition and stays in theaters longer.
Plus, just because it will be in theaters exclusively for a long time doesn’t mean it won’t take advantage of the big screen as well. In fact, a successful theatrical release also means high demand for streaming and home media, which is a bonus for whatever the film earns in theaters. Whether or not this is the exact template studios should follow for each movie is unclear, but the principles of lower budgets and greater exclusivity will work for cinema-focused content. Likewise, we’ve seen streaming adapt to make storytelling longer, convenient for clients and successful for streamers with a subscription model, and now Nolan’s agreement at Universal serves as a model for it. ‘future of the big screen, which means big of director-led visions with smart budgeting and premium exclusivity.
Ending the streaming vs cinemas debate
This approach may seem more volatile, as releasing fewer films means that the hypothetical failure of Nolan’s next film impacts the studio even more. Even so, for a director like Nolan, whose only question mark at the box office is Principle, which came out during the pandemic and still has numbers similar to the big blockbusters released today, it could very well chart the way for the cinematic experience.
Part of the problem with the theaters vs. streaming debate is that the two media are pitted against each other as if they were directly competing products when they don’t have to be. Streaming has proven that blockbusters can be successful on the small screen as well, but the rise of series and frenzy, especially for large IP franchises, which are not really adaptable to a theatrical model, shows that it does. there is room for both.
Similar to Martin Scorsese drawing heat for his comments that Marvel movies are not real cinema, the important distinction these filmmakers make is not that of superior or inferior products, but simply of classifying the products. like different. Just as attending a sporting event in person is a very different experience than watching one on TV at home, watching motion pictures on the big screen can also be different than streaming them, but it is about optimizing the content for the audience and the medium, both for an optimal viewing experience, but also for a good monetization by the studio.
While Nolan and others such as Denis Villeneuve and Patty Jenkins have aroused the wrath of their (sometimes petty) critics of the streaming, this decision by Nolan is to be commended for using his influence to provide the first step forward in the accolade. of what it means to be a post-pandemic cinematic experience. Of course, the question comes down to execution, which means Nolan has to deliver a J. Robert Oppenheimer film that audiences believe is truly worth the prestige and exclusivity of the big screen. Thankfully, while the director has his critics, the almost unprecedented success of his filmography suggests that now is not the time to bet against Christopher Nolan.
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