You don’t need to be able to manipulate time or whatever the hell it is people are doing in Tenet to have foreseen that Christopher Nolan’s latest film is getting delayed again. Yes, the highly-anticipated sci-fi blockbuster from the fan-favourite filmmaker is getting pushed back for a third time in light of the COVID-19 pandemic keeping cinemas closed in the US.
Warner Bros. had previously delayed Tenet from its original 17 July release to 31 July before being held back an extra two weeks for a 12 August slot. Nolan had reportedly been insistent on being the first major tentpole release back in cinemas, despite COVID-19 infection numbers in US being sky-high. Now it looks like common sense has finally prevailed a bit. However, WB has not given a new release date yet, studio Chairman Toby Emmerich stated in a press release that “We will share a new 2020 release date imminently for Tenet”.
Our goals throughout this process have been to ensure the highest odds of success for our films while also being ready to support our theater partners with new content as soon as they could safely reopen.
With cinemas around the world keeping their doors shut, many have called for films to switch to digital release. While some studios have done this with some of their films – a few even being hugely successful – the simple fact is that this is not a viable tactic for tentpole-sized films like Tenet, which is reported to have a production budget as high as $225 million. That’s excluding marketing costs which will probably be an additional $100 million at least. There’s not a chance in hell that WB would come even remotely close to recouping that cost much less make a profit from a digital release. So what can WB do?
We are not treating Tenet like a traditional global day-and-date release, and our upcoming marketing and distribution plans will reflect that.
That additional quote from Emmerich implies to me that Tenet may just be released in a staggered approach, hitting regions first where cinemas can open. That most definitely excludes the US, the biggest box office market in the world but also the country with the highest COVID-19 numbers. However, as crucial as the US is to a film’s commercial success, it’s often very annoying how studios and pundit forget that the rest of the world exists. International markets can make or break a film’s success as well, and, in fact, Nolan’s films have traditionally earned more than half of their revenue in European and Asian markets. Releasing in those regions now while delaying only the US could work well. There’s just one small problem.
While cinemas in China, the world’s second-largest box office market are opening, they have been restricted to only playing movies shorter than two hours to limit potential exposure time to audience members and give staff time to sanitize venues. Currently, Tenet has a runtime of 2h30. This same issue of a lengthy runtime, combined with the fact that some analysts are predicting that US cinemas will remain closed at least until the end of 2020, is the same reason why the latest James Bond film, No Time to Die, is currently rumoured to only open in mid-2021 now. Would WB take the same tactic with Tenet?
Several other of the studio’s major releases – including Wonder Woman 1984 and Dune – are still set for later in 2020. If Tenet is bumped back behind them, that means that Disney will be the first studio back in cinemas with a major release if Mulan stays on track for its 21 August release date. As things currently stand, I don’t expect that to happen either.
Last Updated: July 21, 2020