And just like that, the Summer of No Blockbusters is official. On Monday, after days of studio hand-wringing and fevered industry speculation, Warner Bros. yanked director Christopher Nolan’s Tenet from its August 12 release date, delaying the $200 million thriller’s theatrical rollout to an unspecified date later this year.
Thanks to the continued shuttering of America’s largest theater chains due to COVID-19 concerns, Warner Bros. is teeing up a radically atypical distribution scheme diverging from the kind of day-and-date, around-the-world release that would normally accompany an event movie of Tenet’s scope and scale. And with foreign ticket sales expected to account for around two-thirds of Tenet’s overall gross — with theaters in territories across Asia and Europe returning to normalcy much more quickly than their North American counterparts — that could include an international launch prior to the film’s arrival in domestic multiplexes.
This date change is Tenet’s third in the span of a month and drastically alters the theatrical moviegoing landscape in a popcorn-movie season that has already seen such presumed blockbusters as F9, Top Gun: Maverick, Black Widow, and Minions: The Rise of Gru vacate their summer release dates to reschedule for late 2020 or spring-summer 2021. That’s bad news for fans of Nolan’s highbrow shock-and-awe filmmaking style but even worse for theater chains such as AMC, Regal, and Landmark Cinemas, which were facing increasingly dire financial straits even before the novel coronavirus and now will have no premium movie product to lure audiences back into their auditoriums until the August 21 release of Disney’s live-action adaptation of Mulan.
Moreover, Warner’s lightning-round calendar shifting with Tenet may be evidence of a growing alarm within Hollywood’s C-suites — a case of studio executives scrambling to concoct a new playbook to maximize box-office returns in a real-time response to the global pandemic that is killing the movie business as we know it.
“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,” Warner Bros. chairman Toby Emmerich said in a statement. “We’re grateful for the support we’ve received from exhibitors and remain steadfast in our commitment to the theatrical experience around the world. Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to proliferate, causing us to reevaluate those dates. Amidst all this continued uncertainty, we have decided to vacate the current dates for our next two releases. We will share a new 2020 release date imminently for Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s wholly original and mind-blowing feature. We are not treating Tenet like a traditional global day-and-date release, and our upcoming marketing and distribution plans will reflect that. Additionally, we will be moving the next installment from our most-successful horror franchise, The Conjuring, to June 4, 2021.”