Most movie industry observers figured that Warner Brothers would have to make a decision on whether to fire the starter’s gun on the “summer” movie season by launching Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” on July 17th by the middle of June. The word came down late last week that while “Tenet” would indeed be one of the films to kick off the summer movie season, it would do so two weeks later than scheduled on July 31st.
The move slots the Nolan-helmed film one week behind the new leader in the clubhouse, Disney’s “Mulan”. Yes, there are smaller titles in July braving COVIOD concerns such as Fathom’s “The Outpost” on July 2nd, and Sony’s Selena Gomez-executive produced “Broken Hearts Gallery” and the Russell Crowe thriller, “Unhinged”, both on July 10th. But those feel like appetizers intended to lure movie audiences back to the multiplexes in order to prep for the main course coming later in the month. Hopefully.
In addition to moving “Tenet” to July 31, Warners made it a 2-for-1 special when they also shifted “Wonder Woman 84” to October 2nd. One loses count of the number of release dates “WW84” has had to its name but I suppose we need to give Gadot & Co a pass considering the frenetic state of the movie industry. Hopefully your release schedule chart isn’t in pen at this point.
So was this a smart move for Warners? One thing is for certain, it wasn’t made without careful consideration and assessment of the state of the industry, and the world for that matter. Warners kept their cards close to the vest for the past few months invoking a Cone of Silence decree (yes, a “Get Smart” reference) on its employees so as to not ignite the rumor mill. Most people I’ve spoken to in the industry had no clue as to what Warners was going to do prior to the announcement last week. My money is on the folks at IMAX knowing a bit more than the rest of us but I’m not even certain that they had any inclination. In an industry not exactly known for keeping secrets, Warners executed this news embargo so successfully that MI:6 would have been impressed.
The guess here is that this will end up being a smart move by Warners and Nolan. It may not be the perfect situation for the director and studio but we are no longer living in a world of perfect solutions. Here are 7 reasons why that may be the case.
Big Cities Are Nolan’s Bread and Butter
It’s no secret that the audience for Nolan’s films (we’ll take “Batman” out of the equation for this example) come from the big cities. New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco theaters look like they will need a bit more time than the rest of the country before their cinemas are open and up to speed. The same can be said for larger cities around the world such as London, Rome, Paris and Beijing (more on that later). The extra two weeks can only help with maximizing the number of cinemas and screens in those indispensable markets.
Maybe First-Boat-Out Isn’t Always the Best Pole Position
Here’s an understatement—once theaters open in mass, we are heading into uncharted waters. There will be hiccups and unforeseen speed bumps throughout the month of July that no one can predict, plus there’s a pesky problem of many states in the US having their infection rates rising rather than falling at the moment. It will behoove Warners to watch what happens throughout the month and especially with “Mulan” if that film remains on July 24th
Even Now, It’s Still About Opening Weekend
Many industry observers have spent the past couple of months talking about how the first several releases’ success should be viewed on a total, length-of-run basis run rather by their opening weekends—I will admit I was one of them—but much of the media lately surrounding “Tenet” has talked about what kind of opening weekend we can expect. Did Warners reach a point where the possibility of a higher debut on July 31st (with more cinemas open than on the 17th) proved too enticing from a PR standpoint? Don’t discount that possibility.
A Little Breathing Room for Cinema Chains
Having been on several cinema industry calls over the past month I get the very real impression that the extra couple of weeks until the 24th/31st will give cinemas a bit more time to prepare and do “run-throughs” with the early July titles mentioned above. This will also allow moviegoers to share on social media their experiences—hopefully all good—about returning to the cinemas before “Tenet” opens. Cautious movie fans might want to wait until they see their friends and fellow film fans giving the Papal blessing about their own moviegoing experiences with this new cinematic normal before they decide to take a cannonball leap into the pool.
Warners Can Take One Punch, But Not Two
Moving to the 31st and slotting “Wonder Woman 84” out of August alleviates some of the financial risk for Warners of having two mega-budgeted tentpoles open during the most uncertain time in movie history. Perhaps a studio can survive one summer tentpole being a disappointment if moviegoers aren’t quite ready to return to the theaters but if both “Tenet” and “WW84” underperform in the summer that could be a cataclysmic hit for the studio
Banking on Beijing
With “Tenet”s move, the attention will now turn to Disney and their July 24th date for “Mulan”. I can’t help thinking that whether or not they stick on that date revolves around China and not North America. Some think that China will do everything in their power to ensure that their cinemas open in time for the 24th and, if that’s the case, “Tenet” will now be able to slide in one week later with access that vital market. It’s hard to predict anything that happens in the Middle Kingdom but will they view the inability to reopen their cinemas in time for what arguably could be the biggest title to play in the country for some time, as a national embarrassment?
As it stood last week, Chris Nolan, a huge proponent of IMAX, had those screens to himself for four weeks on “Tenet” into “Wonder Woman 84”. That film’s move to October potentially frees up IMAX screens for a nearly uninterrupted run for the movie into the fall. If you don’t believe me take a glance at a release schedule and pick another film that would have to have an IMAX presence between now and “WW84”. Difficult to find one, isn’t it?
This will be another interesting week for the movie business. Disney is now on the clock as to what it does with “Mulan” and that decision should, and must, be made in the next several days. There is still an outside shot that if “Mulan” moves to the fall or winter that “Tenet”, gulp, moves again. Insane? Yes. How we live in 2020? Yes again.
The only certainty is that absolutely no one has any idea how this is all going to play out. So grab your popcorn, wash your hands, and strap yourselves in for a wild ride.
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