Since the start of quarantine, movie theater owners have been eagerly waiting for the release of Christopher Nolan’s newest film, Tenet. This is because many prognosticators have held the belief that this will be the film to reopen theaters, when its July 17th release date comes around. While many major studio releases—such as Mulan, No Time to Die, and Wonder Woman 1984—saw their release dates pushed back, Tenet never budged. Even as films like F9 (Fast and Furious 9) and The Eternals moved all the way to 2021, Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros. refused to move the release date of their latest blockbuster. For a while, this made film fans optimistic that we would be able to return to cinemas as early as mid-July, but now things are not looking so certain.
Before I delve deeper into the many conversations surrounding Tenet‘s release date, I want to commend Christopher Nolan for his continued strong show of support for the theatergoing process, and movie theaters in general. Throughout his career, Nolan has frequently discussed the importance of his films being released theatrically. He is a man who not only sees theaters as an enjoyable part of our society, but a necessary one as well. He made this clear in a recent op-ed he penned for The Washington Post, in which he stated that movie theaters are “a vital part of social life, providing jobs for many and entertainment for all.” I appreciate directors, like Nolan or Quentin Tarantino, who both understand and preach the importance of movie theaters. Because of Nolan’s strong feelings towards cinemas, I see no way that Tenet ever receives a PVOD (Premium Video on Demand) release instead of a theatrical one, which some have suggested is possible. In fact, Imax CEO Richard Gelfond said on a recent earnings call that, “Chris really would like to be coming out with the film that opens theaters,” and “I don’t know anyone in America who is pushing harder to get the theaters re-opened and to get his movie released than Chris Nolan.”
Despite Nolan’s strong efforts to reopen theaters as soon as possible, some insiders now believe that July is too optimistic of a timeline. Even though some states around the country are beginning to reopen, there may just be too much uncertainty to launch a blockbuster release by July 17th. Furthermore, some fear that the states that do reopen their cinemas early could potentially see an increased wave of infections, which could set back the schedule for a nationwide reopening of theaters.
One of the biggest problems facing Tenet‘s release date, is the fact that it needs New York City and Los Angeles based theaters to be in business by July 17th. Seeing as these are the nation’s two biggest filmgoing markets—and can account for 10% to 20% of a film’s total domestic earnings—Tenet would really struggle to make a profit if it were to be released without these theaters being open. Moreover, the international box office is a very important piece to this puzzle as well. Films like Tenet, with grand scopes, exciting action, and impressive visual effects, frequently rely on big earnings coming from overseas. However, as several countries around the world are still in the midst of a lockdown, there is no guarantee that Tenet will be able to be released globally in July.
I think the biggest question regarding the reopening of theaters in America, and around the world, is not whether or not theaters are going to be allowed to reopen, but rather whether or not people are going to feel comfortable enough to actually show up. Even if all of the estimated 40,613 screens in America are open for business on July 17th, there is no guarantee that people are going to be willing to show up to a theater and sit in a crowd of strangers. Tenet could potentially be a major test for this. Studios and theater owners—who are hopeful that this film will lead to a successful summer movie season, which could include Mulan on July 24th and Wonder Woman 1984 on August 12th—are going to watch closely to see if crowds do indeed show up for Tenet. Ideas such as requiring viewers to wear masks, establishing contact-free concessions, and limiting crowd capacities so patrons would have to sit six feet apart have all been discussed. Unfortunately, no one can truly know whether or not people will feel safe enough to show up until the day eventually comes.
Even though releasing the film that reopens theaters is obviously a financial risk, there are some potential advantages. Cinema owners have noted that even though limited theater capacities could result in selling fewer tickets, less movies being available to the public could make up for this. Since there won’t be many new movies playing, venues have the ability to fill pretty much all their screens and all their time slots with Tenet. Therefore, they can make up for the smaller crowd sizes with more overall screenings.
It is believed that an official decision from Warner Bros., regarding Tenet‘s release date, is going to come very soon. This is because if they do stick to the July 17th date, they would need to start revving up their marketing efforts as soon as possible. I’m sure they would like to be able to market Tenet as “The Film Christopher Nolan is Reopening Cinemas With,” but I also imagine they don’t want to spend millions of dollars on marketing just to have to push back the release date. We’re just going to have to wait and see. Personally, I believe I would feel comfortable showing up to a movie theater by the time July 17th rolls around.
Until new releases like Tenet actually start hitting cinemas, we’re stuck with watching films at home. Because of this, I thought I would share my top five 2020 releases so far, as well as where they can be viewed.
5. The Assistant (Dir. Kitty Green) Available on Amazon, Youtube, and Google Play
Kitty Green’s harrowing look into the life of an assistant to a powerful and depraved Hollywood executive is one of the most personal, intimate, and emotionally-stirring films of the year.
4. Bad Education (Dir. Corey Finley) Available on HBO Go and HBO Now
Cory Finley captures the essence of Long Island better than any film I’ve ever seen before, in this tale of corrupt school officials. This one hit a little too close to home for me. (My review for Bad Education can be found here.)
3. Bacurau (Dir. Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonça Filho) Available on Youtube, Google Play, and Film at Lincoln Center’s Virtual Cinema
Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho’s modern western is potentially the most inventive and flat-out entertaining film I’ve seen this year. Despite being an exhilarating genre tale, this incredibly smart and layered story also has a lot to say about the world today. (If you can afford it, renting this film through Film at Lincoln Center’s Virtual Cinema is a great way to help a theater in need right now.)
2. Blow The Man Down (Dir. Bridget Savage Cole, Danielle Krudy) Available on Amazon
Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy’s comedy/drama/mystery story of two sisters stuck in a small town continues to stick with me long after I first viewed it. This movie makes me very excited to see what films this writing & directing pair will go on to make in the future.
1. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Dir. Eliza Hittman) Available on Amazon, Youtube, and Google Play
Eliza Hittman’s deeply intimate film about two teenage girls traveling from rural Pennsylvania to New York City to seek medical help for an unplanned pregnancy remains the most emotionally affecting, and heart-rending film I’ve seen this year. (My review for Never Rarely Sometimes Always can be found here.)