Christopher Nolan‘s Tenet was always battling to be the first major release when cinemas eventually re-opened. Warner Bros. kept the film in its original July 17 release date well after other films had been pushed back. They then delayed it a mere two weeks to keep the film in July, before pushing it back two more weeks to mid-August when that wasn’t viable.
Well, it’s now clear that even if some cinemas do re-open, it will be at limited capacities, and many people may not want to visit the cinema under current conditions anyway. Thus, Warner Bros. stands to potentially lose a lot of money if it releases a hugely-budgeted blockbuster to quarter-full screenings. So, some might say mercifully, Tenet has now been delayed indefinitely.
Nolan’s film will not be the first major cinematic release when cinemas re-open, or post-pandemic. In fact, we don’t even know when the film will arrive. Warner Bros. is reportedly shifting traditional release strategy completely. A statement from studio chairman Toby Emmerich said:
“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”.
The statement clearly says “2020 release date”, so obviously the studio still plans for the film to hit this year. But it looks like we’ll be looking at an unusual distribution plan. Perhaps a staggered release? Where certain countries where COVID-19 is under better control get the film first, while other countries have to wait until 2021? It’s possible, but we’ll see what the studio decides on.
Warner Bros. already have other big projects scheduled for late 2020, including Wonder Woman 1984 and Dune, so clearly they have hope those films will arrive on time (although they probably have contingency plans in place, obviously).
Will they want Tenet coming out at a similar time, at the risk of multiple big films stepping on each other’s toes? Or will that even matter if cinema screenings aren’t full?
This is obviously a major headache for studios with blockbusters in the can and ready to go. How do you recoup the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on production and marketing when audiences flocking to the cinema opening weekend feels like a distant memory? We’ll see what Warner Bros. comes up with.