For movie theaters shuttered by coronavirus, it’s become something of a mantra: “Just wait until ‘Tenet.'”
The science-fiction epic, shrouded in secrecy, isn’t just hotly anticipated because it’s the latest film from Christopher Nolan, the preeminent practitioner of a certain kind of blockbuster entertainment that is popular with critics and general audiences alike. There’s certainly the hope that “Tenet,” like “Inception,” “The Dark Knight,” and “Dunkirk” before it, will prove to be a box office smash when it debuts on July 17.
But in this case, “Tenet” is more than a movie. It’s the spark that cinemas are counting on to ignite a moviegoing revival in the U.S. and beyond. Nearly every blockbuster set to debut this year has shifted after the coronavirus pandemic prompted cinemas nationwide to close. While tentpoles like Universal’s “Fast and Furious” installment “F9” and Disney’s “The Eternals” were pushed into 2021, “Tenet” has been one of the few films to hold steady on the release calendar. When movie theaters do reopen, Nolan wants his big-budget espionage thriller to be the first to greet moviegoers on the big screen.
“Chris really would like to be coming out with the film that opens theaters,” Imax CEO Richard Gelfond said on a recent earnings call. “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.”
And that’s certainly the message that Nolan has relayed to the exhibition community. He has pledged to finish the film’s extensive post-production and visual effects work in the coming weeks and is fully committed to delivering the picture in time for its mid-July release date, despite the fact that social distancing has left many crew members fine-tuning things remotely.
Nolan, who penned an op-ed in The Washington Post arguing that movie theaters represent “a vital part of social life” and must be preserved, has assured exhibitors that he will do anything he can to help get them back on their feet. Plans are still being worked out, but theaters are hoping to mount an advertising campaign utilizing A-list filmmakers urging the public to return to multiplexes. Nolan could be one of the people featured in those spots and materials.
However, some insiders still think that a July release is overly optimistic, pointing to the fact that coronavirus cases are still rising in many parts of the country. There’s also fears that the decision to loosen social distancing restrictions in states such as Georgia and Texas and reopen certain businesses will fuel new waves of infections, setting back plans for a nationwide return to cinemas. For now, most movie theater chains don’t expect to reopen before June. AMC and Cinemark, two the world’s largest circuits, suggest July sounds more realistic.