Everyone wants to be in the Christopher Nolan business. Given that the writer-director jump-started the Batman franchise with 2005's Batman Begins, followed it up with two critically and commercially successful sequels, (while delivering The Prestige and Inception between them), that's hardly a surprise.
After helping shape Zack Snyder's upcoming Superman reboot Man of Steel, Nolan is stepping into the realm of hard sci-fi with Interstellar, a project originally set-up at Paramount from a script by his brother Jonathan and meant for Steven Spielberg. The Lincoln director set it aside to make Robopocalypse, which paved the way for Nolan to take the helm and rewrite the script.
Given that Warner Bros. produced and distributed all three films of Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, it definitely wanted a piece of the Interstellar action. As told by The Hollywood Reporter, the price for joining their rival's project with Nolan was Warner's stake in future installments of two potential cash-cow franchises: Friday the 13th and South Park. Paramount will also have co-finance rights on an A-list Warner property which has yet to be determined.
So now Paramount has a partner on a potentially-risky original sci-fi project, and Warner gets to stay in the Nolan game. The catch here is that Paramount has to develop movies for both franchises within the next five years.
The relationship between these rival studios and Friday the 13th dates back to the original 1980 film, produced and directed by Sean Cunningham with investments from Boston theater owners. Paramount distributed the film domestically while Warner Bros. handled it internationally. Cunningham eventually re-acquired the rights to the franchise and set up shop at New Line (home to A Nightmare On Elm Street) for many of the sequels.
Warner Bros. had acquired New Line by the time Cunningham and company were ready to mount a remake, and it was discovered that Paramount still had a certain number of rights when it came to the property and were brought in as a 50-50 partner. Produced by Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes shingle, the surprisingly effective remake brought in $91 million on a budget of less than $20 million.
The history of the two studios when it comes to South Park is a similarly tangled story. The show created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone originated on Comedy Central, which was formed when Time Warner's HBO spinoff network Comedy Channel was merged with Ha!, a channel created by Paramount's parent corporate entity, Viacom. Warner exited Comedy Central but retained some rights to South Park, and went on to distribute South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut overseas.
The complicated rights entanglement was discovered when efforts began to mount for both a second South Park movie and another installment in the ongoing saga of Jason Voorhees and severed limbs. Thus, to maintain their relationship with Christopher Nolan, Warner Bros. gave the rights to the properties away to Paramount. There are no details on how the studios will divide the profits from Interstellar - which Warner Bros. senses could become another Inception - but expect one studio to distribute the film here in the States and the other to handle the release internationally.
Given that Warner Bros. will have their hands full over the next decade or so while they catch up with Marvel and establish their own DC Universe on the big-screen, trimming their franchise load kind of makes sense. Since Paramount has five years to do something with the properties, it's a sign that Warner knows there is money to be made there and won't give them up permanently.
As for Paramount, they have the Mission: Impossible series going for them, the rebooted Star Trek series, they own DreamWorks (thus having their fingers in anything Steven Spielberg makes at the company), and they now have a relationship with Christopher Nolan. It shouldn't be long before announcements about new Friday the 13th and South Park movies show up, with both brands proving to be profitably resilient.
In the meantime, Christopher Nolan's Interstellar starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway will open on November 7th of 2014.