Tenet was supposed to be the movie that kicked off the film industry’s return to theaters, but Warner Bros. has delayed the movie indefinitely.
“We will share a new 2020 release date imminently for Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s wholly original and mind-blowing feature,” Warner Bros. chairman Toby Emmerich said in a statement to Variety.
Tenet was originally supposed to be released on July 17th. It was pushed back to July 31st because of ongoing concerns surrounding the pandemic. Warner Bros. delayed the movie for a second time to August 12th, as it tried to figure out when Tenet could feasibly hit theaters.
What’s most interesting about this round of Tenet delays is that Warner Bros. is changing its tune on how it’s treating the movie’s global release. Emmerich told Variety the studio is “not treating Tenet like a traditional global day-and-date release, and our upcoming marketing and distribution plans will reflect that.” That means that as theaters begin to reopen around the world, including in prominent markets like Asia, Warner Bros. could release Tenet overseas while keeping the film off its domestic slate.
It’s also become increasingly clear that Warner Bros. isn’t interested in moving Tenet to a digital-release-only title. Warner Bros., Universal, and Disney have all moved some of their titles from theatrical releases to digital-first exclusives, launching either through premium video-on-demand platforms for a specific fee, or premiering exclusively on streaming services. Hamilton premiered on Disney Plus, and Disney CEO Bob Chapek said it brought a “a lot of new people” to the streamer.
So why wouldn’t Warner Bros. move Tenet to a 100 percent digital release? Like everything in life: money. Christopher Nolan movies perform exceedingly well at the box office, and Tenet is the type of film that could have crossed $1 billion easily in non-pandemic times. Warner Bros. still clearly thinks that Tenet can produce a high source of revenue for the studio, and executives keep Nolan — a staunch believer in the theatrical experience — happy.
“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,” Emmerich said in his 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 our release dates.”
The big question now is what do the other studios do, especially Disney. Tenet and Mulan have played a game of theatrical release date chicken. Now that Tenet is delayed indefinitely, will Disney move Mulan further into the year? What about New Mutants? The new X-Men movie has a big panel scheduled for Comic-Con@Home, leading some people to speculate that it could receive a surprise digital release.
What’s clear is that as states around the country try to fight growing COVID-19 cases, movie theaters are either restricted from opening or are facing major concerns about reopening. Finding new ways to release blockbuster films this year is something that all studios, not just Warner Bros., are going to have to get used to for the foreseeable future.