Warner Bros. has removed “Tenet” from its release calendar, delivering a big blow on the exhibition industry at a time when movie theaters had hoped to peg their re-opening to the late summer debut of Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi thriller.
Though necessary given the mass uncertainty over when cinemas across the globe can safely reopen, the decision further complicates Hollywood’s already bumpy plan to revive moviegoing. “Tenet” was originally scheduled to debut on July 17, but it was pushed back to July 31 and then Aug. 12. It’s unclear when it will now welcome audiences, but the studio expects to announce a new release date “imminently.”
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“We will share a new 2020 release date imminently for ‘Tenet,’ Christopher Nolan’s wholly original and mind-blowing feature,” said Warner Bros. chairman Toby Emmerich in a statement. “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.”
In what would be a surprise move, Warner Bros. may release “Tenet” overseas before it opens in the United States. Though North America remains the biggest moviegoing market in the world, international cinemas look to be ahead of the States in their efforts to reopen. Sources at the studio stress they will have to be flexible with plans to unveil “Tenet,” suggesting the film won’t have a traditional rollout.
“We are not treating ‘Tenet’ like a traditional global day-and-date release, and our upcoming marketing and distribution plans will reflect that,” Emmerich said.
“Tenet,” which stars John David Washington and Robert Pattinson, is intentionally shrouded in secrecy — and a staggered rollout could raise concerns about piracy and spoilers in a way that could impact demand to see the film. However, it would be welcome news for exhibitors in Europe and Asia, two robust film markets that haven’t had a new Hollywood movie to entice audiences in months. In their blueprints to reopen, movie theater owners recently expressed concern to Variety that the global box office has all but been “forgotten” by U.S. studios. Previous films from Nolan have earned more than 50% of box office revenues from theaters overseas, and major tentpoles can generate as much as two-thirds of ticket sales from international venues.
But “Tenet” faces a unique caveat in China, the world’s second-largest movie market. Currently, its exhibitors cannot screen movies that exceed two hours in length. “Tenet” runs at just over 2 hours and 30 minutes. Unless the country eases up on that restriction, there’s no sense of when it will be able play in China.
Warner Bros. also announced Monday that “The Conjuring 3” has been postponed to June 4, 2021. The eighth entry in the studio’s horror franchise was schedule to debut in theaters on Sept. 11. However, “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” was supposed to have additional shoots in April. Since film production hasn’t been able to resume, it wouldn’t be ready in time for its target release date.
“We’re grateful for the support we’ve received from exhibitors and remain steadfast in our commitment to the theatrical experience around the world,” Emmerich said. “Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to proliferate, causing us to reevaluate our release dates.”
Other anticipated titles from the studio — including “Wonder Woman 1984” (Oct. 2) and Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” remake (Dec. 18) — remain scheduled for 2020. However, they could be moved if coronavirus infections continues to surge. In recent months, the studio also shuffled around opening weekends for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical “In the Heights” (June 18, 2021) and “The Batman” with Pattinson (June 25, 2021).
For now, Disney’s “Mulan” is slated to launch on Aug. 21. If that date holds, the live-action remake would be the first tentpole from a major studio to open since the pandemic.
While most studios have postponed their big movies into late 2020 or 2021 and beyond, Nolan has high hopes that “Tenet” can usher audiences back to theaters, which have been closed since March to help stop the spread of coronavirus. For that reason, Warner Bros. had previously decided to incrementally move “Tenet” back weeks at a time, rather than postpone it to a significant degree until a majority of cinemas are able to safely reopen. When they are able to turn the lights back on, there’s no telling how eager people will be to return to the movies.
Warner Bros. shelled out $200 million to produce “Tenet,” not including hefty marketing fees, meaning it’s no small gamble to premiere the film. It’s still ambiguous when movie theaters in New York City and Los Angeles — which accounts for 20% of the overall domestic box office — will be able to resume operations at a large-scale level. However, insiders at Warner Bros. say they could move forward with “Tenet” in select U.S. cities where cases of the virus have eased and public health and government officials deem it safe.
Nolan, whose credits also include “The Dark Knight” trilogy and “Interstellar,” wrote and directed “Tenet,” an espionage thriller about a secret agent tasked with preventing another world war. The cast includes Elizabeth Debicki, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Kenneth Branagh.
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