Less than a week after the CEO of the National Theatre Owners Association warned Hollywood studios that if they wait a year to release new movies, “we won’t be there,” Warner Bros. makes it clear it’s siding with cinemas in 2020. Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is now poised to open in movie theaters around the world at the end of next month. For real.
On Monday WB announced Tenet is officially slated to open in more than 70 countries overseas, beginning on Aug. 26. Additionally, the movie will open in “select U.S. cities” on Sept. 2, ahead of Labor Day weekend, which begins on Friday, Sept. 4.
The news comes one week to the day since WB pushed Tenet off its Aug. 12 release date, likely to the dismay of the movie exhibition business. Indeed, Tenet’s delay seemed to trigger a variety of similar postponements across the Hollywood release calendar. Yet even then, Warners made clear its intention to have a staggered international release for Tenet in 2020, even if that meant leaving the U.S. behind. Now we more clearly see what that staggered release will look like. Beginning on the last weekend of August, Tenet will open in parts of the UK, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and Spain. The irony of it opening in Italy, Spain, and South Korea before the U.S. should not be lost on anyone following the trends of the coronavirus pandemic.
What is intriguing about the U.S. rollout, however, is that Tenet’s American run may amount to a limited release across parts of the country that could exclude the nation’s biggest moviegoing markets, New York City and Los Angeles. Indeed, New York City’s theaters have remained closed since March and do not appear likely to reopen anytime soon. California, meanwhile, is seeing some of the highest rates of COVID-19 infection in the country.
Still, more than 30 of the 50 states have currently greenlit movie theaters to reopen, even though many, including AMC Theatres, the largest chain of movie houses in North America, have delayed reopening until there is new content from Hollywood. Tenet (along with possibly Disney’s The New Mutants) may be the first major studio film to offer any relief to exhibitors.
This is a remarkable turn of events, marking the fourth release date Tenet has enjoyed in the past few months. Originally slated for July 17 and then July 31, Tenet’s loss of the Aug. 12 date seemed to some to be the final push back the movie might experience in the U.S. in 2020. But it should be noted (as always) that Christopher Nolan is a great proponent of movie theaters and the cinematic experience. Having previously described it in The Washington Post as “a vital part of our social life,” Nolan is greatly concerned with preserving the economic safety of movie theaters themselves. His insistence on a 2020 theatrical release date can be viewed as providing economic relief to movie theaters on the brink of bankruptcy, if not outright salvation.
That said, we imagine the U.S. date will remain a question mark until we actually get close to September considering that COVID-19 infection rates continue to soar in many states, including several that have given movie theaters the thumbs up. But I have a hunch the date may stick, especially as European cinema owners have reported that a major factor in WB’s thinking is that if the movie must release in movie theaters this year (which is a vocal desire of Nolan’s), then it is better to get it out in markets with lower COVID-19 rates in the summer, before a potential second wave arrives in the fall. For that reason, it looks like at least some fans will finally get to discover what Tenet is about…