You’ve really got to feel for Christopher Nolan at this point, don’t you? The auteur director has seen his latest film, Tenet, be used as a barometer for when the theater industry will be ready to start operations in earnest again, but that has seen the film’s release date in some serious flux. Originally slated to arrive in theaters on July 17, the hand-wringing throughout June about whether that date would stick was ultimately cacophonous, and it was pushed back only a few weeks, to July 31. Now that date has slid a little further, according to Warner Bros., to Aug. 12. As COVID-19 cases around the U.S. continue to surge, you can feel the desperation in the move, hoping that a few more weeks will somehow mean access to far more theaters than are currently in operation.
Part of the problem is Tenet’s huge budget of $200 million, which is all the more worrisome for the fact that the film isn’t an adaptation of a well-known property. Only an A-list directorial talent like Nolan could ever command such a budget for an entirely original idea, but now that budget has put Warner Bros. in an unenviable position of trying to recoup some of those costs on what it had hoped could be a pop-culture sensation on the level of Inception. The intended Inception re-release, by the way, which was meant to precede Tenet, has been moved to July 31.
“Warner Bros. is committed to bringing Tenet to audiences in theaters, on the big screen, when exhibitors are ready and public health officials say it’s time,” said a Warner Bros. spokesperson in a statement. “In this moment what we need is to be is flexible, and we are not treating this as a traditional movie release. We are choosing to open the movie mid-week to allow audiences to discover the film in their own time, and we plan to play longer, over an extended play period far beyond the norm, to develop a very different yet successful release strategy.”
AKA, “we’ll keep this open however long we need to, hoping that the NYC and L.A. theaters will eventually be open.” That’s far from a certainty, however, as cases of the novel coronavirus continue to surge in the U.S. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that movie theaters would not be included in the city’s Phase 4 of reopening. And who knows how many customers will feel safe attending movies even after the theaters are open, when chains like AMC are failing to inspire confidence with their lack of preparation for necessities like mandatory mask usage?
This second move of Tenet’s release effectively transfers the burden of “first blockbuster of the season” over to Disney, whose Mulan is still scheduled for July 24. Who knows if the company will be willing to accept that responsibility, though—it seems like the major studios are ready to play hot potato on this issue, each hoping that the other will debut a big film so they can assess the success of its premiere. Disney has already scrapped its plans to open California’s Disneyland on July 17, although it’s currently holding to the plan to open Disney World in Florida on July 11.
There are new movies coming to theaters, however—they’re just of the lower-profile variety. Russell Crowe’s road rage thriller Unhinged will be the first to test the waters on July 10, and Sony’s rom-com The Broken Hearts Gallery is intended to follow on July 17. All eyes will be on their performance, but the true test will be when the likes of Mulan and Tenet finally make landfall.