'Dune' director slams AT&T's decision to release films on HBO Max

Denis Villeneuve said the telco "hijacked one of the most respectable and important studios in film history."

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Following the news that all of Warner Bros.’ films in 2021 will be released on HBO Max the same day they hit theaters, Dune director Denis Villeneuve has written an essay (published on Variety) slamming AT&T for the move. Warner Bros. is owned by WarnerMedia, which is part of the telecommunications giant. In his article, Villeneuve called the release strategy “a desperate attempt to grab the audience’s attention.”

Villeneuve did not hold back at all, and the article is filled with searing criticism of the carrier and the studio. He wrote that “even though Dune is about cinema and audiences, AT&T is about its own survival on Wall Street,” adding that “there is absolutely no love for cinema, nor for the audience here.” He also called HBO Max “a failure thus far.”

Though Villeneuve believes streaming services do contribute to the entertainment ecosystem, he feels that films like Dune need to be watched in theaters. “Streaming can produce great content, but not movies of Dune’s scope and scale,” he wrote. He said Dune is the best movie he’s ever made and that his team worked hard to design the film for theaters. But with this move, Villeneuve believes that “Warner Bros. might just have killed the Dune franchise.”

“I want the audience to understand that streaming alone can’t sustain the film industry as we knew it before COVID,” he said.

Villeneuve acknowledged the importance of public safety and that in-theater viewing is not a great option for many people around the world right now. He explained that he wanted the movie’s release to be delayed till October 2021 “when vaccinations will be advanced and, hopefully, the virus behind us.”

AT&T and HBO Max have defended their controversial decision, with the telco’s CEO John Stankey saying on Tuesday saying at a UBS banking conference that “I think when we just are being really honest about this, there’s a win-win-win here.” He added, “We think it’s a great way for us to penetrate the market faster and quicker.”

Villeneuve isn’t the only director to speak out on this. Christopher Nolan, whose latest film Tenet released in select theaters earlier this year, has been vocal about the issue, calling it “a real bait and switch.”

Meanwhile, Wonder Woman 1984 is slated to debut on HBO Max on Christmas Day. Ahead of that release, the streaming service has seen its subscriber number jump from 8.6 million activations (at the end of September) to 12.6 million.