Oscars Aftermath: The Good, the Bad, and the Kenergy

christopher nolan
Nolan and his studio benefactor succeeded creatively and financially the old-fashioned way, not via some innovative strategy. Photo: eff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Matthew Belloni
March 12, 2024

Chris Nolan didn’t thank Jason Kilar in his Oscars acceptance speech last night, but the seeds of the Oppenheimer quasi-sweep were sown on December 3, 2020. That date—let’s call it the Big Bang of the current Hollywood solar system—was when Kilar, the former Hulu executive whom AT&T hired to turn WarnerMedia into Netflix, announced Project Popcorn, his plan to leverage the pandemic to boost HBO Max by debuting the entire ’21 slate online the day the titles hit theaters.

Granted, most multiplexes were closed then, and the move did benefit what was then a fledgling streaming service in those heady days of the streaming wars. But not only did the move leave no doubt that Hollywood intended to nuke its former, very good business model in favor of a decidedly less good business model, it also pissed off the town so badly that Nolan felt compelled to become its spokesman. Warner Bros., the Tenet filmmaker announced, had gone from the “greatest movie studio” to “the worst streaming service.” It was a great quote—even if there were (and still are) a couple far worse streamers at the time—and one that was indicative of the 100 percent predictable anger among the creative class. A 20-year relationship had been severed, Nolan took his next film to Universal, and film chair Donna Langley and her marketing and distribution teams hit Oppenheimer out of the park—helped in part, and more than a bit ironically, by the Warner Bros. hit Barbie