The blockbuster that Hollywood was counting on to jump-start a COVID-19 delayed summer movie season won't be busting blocks anytime soon. Christopher Nolan's sci-fi thriller Tenet, originally announced for a July 17 opening, and pushed back twice, has now been removed from the Warner Bros release calendar, in a major blow to film exhibitors.
"We will share a new 2020 release date imminently for Tenet, Christopher Nolan's wholly original and mind-blowing feature," said Warner Bros. chairman Toby Emmerich in a statement.
Director Nolan — whose blockbusters Inception, Dunkirk and the Batman Dark Knight Trilogy have made billions on the big screen — has been adamant that his $200-million thriller would be the tent-pole that would hold up the summer movie-going tent.
When theater chains got open, he said, Tenet would bring the crowds. But as it became clear that theater chains would not be fully open by this past weekend, the opening date started slipping, first to July 31, then to Aug. 12, and now to an as-yet-unspecified date later this year.
The Warner Bros. statement went on to say the studio would not be giving Tenet a "traditional global day-and-date release" — industry-speak for opening all over the planet at once — though it didn't specify what a non-traditional release might look like
Speculation in the film industry has been that the studio might try premiering Tenet overseas. Nolan's blockbusters have tended to do two-thirds of their business in foreign territories, and some major foreign markets are reopening as governments get the coronavirus under control, including South Korea, Japan, China, and some areas of Europe.
What box-office grosses might look like in a fragmented, here-and-there release is anyone's guess. In China and South Korea, cinemas have reopened with stringent social distancing protocols, and fewer screenings daily to allow for additional cleaning of theaters. An industry operating at, say, 30% of capacity, will not be turning out a lot of box-office records.
That will also be true at theaters in the U.S., where not quite one-fifth of the nation's multiplexes are currently open for business, and very few of those in urban areas. It would be unprecedented to premiere a major movie and not play in New York and Los Angeles on opening weekend, but...a lot of things are unprecedented right now.