It’s hard to think of a single industry that isn’t fighting to stay alive right now and that’s certainly true of the high-stakes world of Hollywood movies. The film industry spends billions in order to make billions. That’s the plan anyway. But what happens after you spend those billions– or at least hundreds of millions– and then there is no outlet for you to release your product in a manner in which you can recoup your investment?
That’s the problem facing Warner Brothers, one of the biggest US film studios. Specifically, WB is sitting on two would-be massive hits– ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ and ‘Tenet’, both of which were supposed to have already been released in theaters. Since WB is firmly planning to release ‘Tenet’ before ‘WW84’, that’s the film to keep an eye on.
‘Tenet’ has already been delayed twice. It is now scheduled to be released– in theaters— on August 12, but many insiders are now predicting that US theaters won’t be open by then. Theaters have reopened in other countries only to immediately get shut down after a single weekend, due to massive spikes in COVID-19 transferrence. In the US, we’re seeing similar reopenings/shutdowns of restaurants, bars, beaches, and more, for the same reason.
According to sources (courtesy of Indie Wire), WB has spent $400 million to make and market ‘Tenet’. That means the Christopher Nolan flick needs to make $800 million just to break even. It needs to make almost a billion dollars to be profitable.
To put that into perspective, last year, when everything was normal, only nine movies made over $1 billion and eight of them were mass-appeal Disney flicks– ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’, ‘Aladdin’, ‘Toy Story 4’, ‘Captain Marvel’, ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’, ‘Frozen 2’, ‘The Lion King’, and of course, ‘Avengers: Endgame’. (Okay, technically, ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ is a Sony movie, but still…) The one anomaly to break $1B is the R-rated ‘Joker’.
But ‘Tenet’ has a chance. Or at least it would under normal circumstances. Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ both grossed over $1B… but those are Batman movies, so they have a leg up. But ‘Inception’ made $829.9 million ten years ago. His two most recent movies, war flick ‘Dunkirk’ and sci-fi experiment ‘Interstellar’ did very well, although not quite billion-dollar well. (‘Dunkirk’ made $526.9 million; ‘Interstellar’ made $677.5 million.)
WB plans a long and slow release for ‘Tenet’. With theaters likely limiting the number of tickets they sell for each screening by as much as half, the plan is to leave ‘Tenet’ in theaters for a longer period of time, allowing audiences to roll in at their convenience. Gone are the days of movies making half their total gross on opening weekend. WB is also banking on no other major movies opening to challenge ‘Tenet’. While another studio may decide to take it on, it actually makes more sense for the other majors to back off and let ‘Tenet’ do its job of luring moviegoers back to cineplexes. (Y’know, provided going to the movies is no longer potentially lethal.)
Summer is half over, and in reality, the “summer movie season” actually, normally ends at the end of July. Typically, audiences are too busy in August getting ready for back-to-school and such. A few bigger movies, like a ‘Mission: Impossible’ might pop up to send the summer out in style, but generally, the rush of big-budget tentpoles dies down.
But… for the time being, ‘Tenet’ is still expected to open on August 12. We’ll see…