Tenet: the last summer blockbuster standing

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Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is the last summer blockbuster hope for a film industry that’s been hit hard by the Coronavirus outbreak.

With cinemas now expecting to not open until June at the earliest, understandably Hollywood studios have rearranged a whole bunch of movies. We’ve put together a list here that compiles what films have been moved to what dates in the UK. Since No Time To Die – widely expected to be the biggest film of the year – was first to move, pretty much every big film due out before the end of summer has shifted it release.

Yet examining the current state of the UK cinema release schedule – and this is reflected in the US too – there’s one big summer blockbuster still standing, that hasn’t as of yet budged from its release date. And it looks as though it’s being positioned as the big movie when cinemas do eventually reopen.

That film is Christopher Nolan’s eagerly-awaited Tenet, that Warner Bros has backed and is distributing. It’s sat on a release date of Friday July 17th, a day that was staked out a long time in advance. And the strategy here appears to be not blinking until Warner Bros utterly has to.

Here’s the trailer for the film from last December…

There’s a strong feeling from the industry that when cinemas do reopen, there’ll need to be a big film out there to draw people back. That opening cinemas cautiously, with re-releases, is something, but not the shot in the arm the industry needs.

Right now, Tenet is the ideal candidate for a huge reopening film, and exhibitors in particular will be nervous at the thought of it having to be delayed. From the outside looking in, the ideal scenario would seem to be that cinemas open a week or two before the film’s release date, to overcome initial cautiousness. But then a huge film arrives fairly quickly. Given that Tenet too has been partly-filmed using IMAX cameras, it’s a huge big screen movie.

On Warner Bros’ part, the film is a gamble already, of course. Appreciating that it’s a Christopher Nolan film, the movie has nonetheless cost $200m to make (before marketing and distribution), and doesn’t have a major franchise as any kind of safety net. And as hugely impressive as the ensemble is – John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki and more – it’s not a collection of names that guarantee a massive opening weekend at the box office. Granted, the days of a movie star being able to open a movie off the back of their name seem long gone anyway. But even so: this is the one $200m original film on the schedule all year.

These are clearly unprecedented times, and the studio is surely caught between trying to protect its investment, and also holding that date. If it does remain the only huge new blockbuster in cinemas when multiplexes open back up again, then it’s in – bluntly – a stronger position than it may have originally anticipated.

If Tenet does delay, the remaining calendar of huge movies is barren for a few weeks after that. In fact, not until another Warner Bros release – Wonder Woman 84 – arrives on August 14th is there another blockbuster planned. The week after that, Warners also has the UK release of Bill And Ted Face The Music, which feels like a good tonic too.

But it’s very much the hope – from all sides of the industry – that Tenet doesn’t budge, and that everyone holds their nerve (assuming it’s safe to do so). So far, there’s no sign that it will. Yet conversely, it’s the last big film standing for a reason. Everybody else has understandably mitigated their risk by moving elsewhere.

Now? It’s a case of what will Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros do. Here’s hoping that they can, and do, hold steady.

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