Earlier this week, it was announced that Warner Bros. had removed Tenet from its release calendar. This news came as no surprise to film fans, as the rising Covid-19 cases across the United States continue to keep theaters shut down. Still though, this news was a major blow to the exhibition industry, since many cinemas were hoping that the debut of Christopher Nolan’s new film would allow them to open their doors once again. This belief has been prevalent in the industry ever since the beginning of quarantine when Warner Bros. and Nolan made it clear that they had no intentions of moving off of their original July 17 release date. As we all know though, the studio did eventually give in and move Tenet’s release date to July 31. And then recently, the release date was moved once more to August 12. Warner Bros. did not give a new release date in their most recent announcement, but they did promise another 2020 date was coming “imminently.” For now though, moviegoers have no idea when they will actually be able to view Tenet.
There has been some speculation that Warner Bros. may release Tenet overseas before the film reaches theaters in America. This is because, although North America is still the world’s largest moviegoing market, international cinemas appear to be closer to reopening. If Warner Bros. were to actually move forward with this plan, they would be comforted by the fact that some previous Nolan films have made over 50% of their revenues overseas. Moreover, many tentpole films make up to 2/3rds of their box office returns internationally nowadays. Obviously, the potential concerns that come with this plan mostly revolve around piracy and spoilers. These things would be especially concerning for a film that has been shrouded in as much secrecy as Tenet has.
The other unconventional option that has been thrown out there is a possible online/streaming release for Tenet. During quarantine, we’ve seen many films that were originally supposed to debut theatrically have a successful online release, including Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island and more recently Palm Springs on Hulu. Though both are those films are comedies, which would seemingly make them more compatible with the at-home viewing experience—we have also seen action films like The Old Guard and Extraction do well on Netflix during this time. As I mentioned earlier, Warner Bros. has not given any concrete details on where or when they are moving the release of Tenet to. But, they did make it clear that they are flexible and open to a nontraditional release. Warner Bros. chairman Toby Emmerich said “We are not treating Tenet like a traditional global day-and-date release, and our upcoming marketing and distribution plans will reflect that.” This could mean they’re open to an overseas plan or a PVOD plan, but truthfully, it could also just mean that they’re aware of the fact that any rollout of this film would have to be nontraditional at a time like this.
Personally, I don’t want this film to be released online. While I haven’t disliked the at-home viewing experience I’ve had with films like Da 5 Bloods as much as I thought I would, I firmly believe that Tenet is a film that deserves to be seen in theaters. Regardless of what you think about him as a director, it’s an indisputable fact that Nolan makes his films for the big screen—and that’s where Tenet belongs. Honestly though, I don’t see why they haven’t already announced a theatrical release date for 2021. I know they ideally want to get this move out this summer, but at some point you have to accept the reality of the situation. I genuinely hope they don’t force a PVOD release just for the sake of releasing Tenet this summer, as that would seemingly go against what fans, the studio, and Nolan want.
Truthfully, I think Warner Bros. should hold off on announcements altogether, unless they’re going with a 2021 release date. I don’t understand why they promised a new date is coming soon, after already announcing three different release dates for this film. At some point, you’d think they would understand the concept that giving out guaranteed dates is not working out for them. They need to stop throwing around dates when they honestly do not have the power to make any sort of guarantees right now, due to the current state of the world.
Another reason it may be smart to limit the guarantees is because, while this may be seen as them trying to help the theater industry, a case could be made that it is actually hurting movie theaters. Warner Bros. knows they need theaters around the entire globe to be open in order to successfully release Tenet. Therefore, when they keep giving out these dates, they put pressure on the theaters to be open and ready in time for them. That is quite frankly impossible for a lot of theaters right now though. Instead of a worldwide push to open theaters as soon as possible, I think the industry should just focus on opening the theaters that are located in areas where it is safe to do so, and simply waiting off on everywhere else. Unfortunately, now simply isn’t the proper time for a tentpole release like Tenet.