Christopher Nolan’s TENET is supposed to open July 17 in theaters… but will it?

Christopher Nolan’s TENET is supposed to open July 17 in theaters… but will it?

Among the many annoying aspects of Coronavirus restrictions, not being able to go see a movie in an actual movie theater is particularly frustrating for many. This resulted in many films being sent directly to streaming, and in some cases major releases pushed back until late 2020, or perhaps even all the way to 2021. One of the year’s biggest and most-anticipated movies is Christopher Nolan’s TENET, which at the moment is still scheduled for a July 17th release. But at this point is that even realistic? Nolan’s films have developed a passionate almost cult-like fan base, and are almost guaranteed to do well based on his involvement alone. So if we’re still under strict orders come July, and businesses have to limit the number of patrons in their establishment, does it make sense for Warner Brothers to stick to their original schedule? According to an article on Variety, Chris Nolan is determined to have his film premiere the way it’s meant to be seen, on a giant screen inside a movie theater, not at home on a streaming service. But there’s also the question of post-production, finishing the film in editing and visual effects, which is a tad more difficult with social distancing and working regulations. However, Nolan has evidently promised he will finish the movie in time. The director was quoted to call theaters “a vital part of social life” in a piece he wrote for The Washington Post, and he hopes his film could potentially help revitalize the movie theater business model.

But let’s be realistic here, cases are still rising daily, and we’ve yet to find a workable and proven vaccine, and many movie theaters aren’t even sure if opening back up right now is a good idea. The July release date is just two months away, and it’s entirely possible things could be much, much worse by then. Some states (including Texas, where I am) reopened bars and restaurants last week, but many reports state people are not returning in large numbers, with many polls establishing patrons aren’t yet comfortable to return to relaxed dining. It begs the question of whether or not people would go back to movie theaters even if they could. As stated in Variety:

With a production budget around $200 million, “Tenet” can’t afford to play in just the few areas that are less affected by coronavirus. In particular, it will struggle to make a profit if theaters aren’t open in New York City and Los Angeles, the country’s two biggest filmgoing markets. Ticket sales in those locations can account for 10% to 20% of a film’s domestic earnings. “Tenet,” with its elaborate effects, is also geared at overseas crowds. Movie theaters have begun to slowly reopen in countries such as Norway and the Czech Republic, but most major international markets will have to be back in business before Warner Bros., the studio behind “Tenet,” moves forward with its release.

The article also notes that Warner Bros. will likely make a decision within a week on whether or not to stick to the intended release date, or push the movie back to a late 2020 (or even 2021) new date. Part of this is related to marketing, which isn’t cheap for a film like this, and would need to done far enough in advance to have an impact. A studio simply cannot afford to lose considerable marketing revenue for a release that’s already so expensive. This is not the only movie facing this sort of decision, as Disney’s MULAN is set for a July 24 release, Paramount’s SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS sequel is set for August 7th, and another Warner Bros. release WONDER WOMAN 1984 is scheduled for August 12th.

Theater owners are also apprehensive about opening new movies, though with so few new releases on the immediate horizon, it is possible theaters playing movies like TENET could potentially dedicate ALL of their houses to one film, meaning several houses showing the movie at the same time, so even social distancing regulations won’t totally prevent the opportunity for strong ticket sales. What do you think? Could TENET still have a chance for a July opening, or at this point is that too optimistic? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

TENET stars John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Clémence Poésy, Michael Caine, Martin Donovan, and Kenneth Branagh. The plot is currently unknown. The project is described as an action epic revolving around international espionage, time travel, and evolution.

TENET opens (hopefully) July 17, 2020

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.