UPDATED, May 16: Will it? Won’t it? Can it?
Exhibitors, rival studios and the town have been paralyzed all week wondering whether Warner Bros.’ Tenet will remain on its July 17 release date and bring the world’s movie theaters back from this coronavirus deep-freeze they’ve been suffering since mid-March.
Here’s what we know at this time: solid sources hear that Warner Bros needs at least 80% of the world’s theaters to be open, including New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco (which rep 25% of a pic’s opening weekend), in order to keep Tenet on its original release date.
If such signs don’t appear positive in the next three weeks or sooner, Tenet moves. In order to make bank on a $200M production, Warners needs the globe’s exhibition infrastructure intact. The crown lays heavy on Warner Bros. and director Christopher Nolan, as they know they have a huge responsibility to get the motion picture industry back on track. But they’re not going to lose any skin in opening Tenet, and they’re certainly not going to put the greater movie-going public in danger.
Christopher Nolan's 'Tenet' Trailer: "Don't Try To Understand It: Feel It"
A film finance source tells Deadline that given the pricey economics of Tenet, it requires a domestic release of 3,5K theaters including most of the major cities, and more than 30K screens worldwide. “None of that will be known until much closer to release,” our source adds. Also we hear that Nolan has 20% of Tenet‘s first dollar gross, which makes the need for a huge gross even greater for Warner Bros.
And if Tenet moves, everything else in the near future slides –Mulan, Wonder Woman 1984, etc, God forbid there’s another spike in COVID-19 cases. Just like we told you what would happen in the wake of MGM’s No Time to Die move, everything moved, and this time it will be further into the fall and beyond.
Exhibitors were waiting for a decision this week as to whether Tenet would stay or not, and no news is good news.
Warners is literally assessing the situation daily with medical experts and watching exhibition reopenings closely. In box office speak, we often talk about “comps” when it comes to a film’s opening weekend, and there aren’t any comps for what we’re going through with COVID-19. Theater owners hear if Tenet moves, it’s to Wonder Woman 1984‘s date of Aug. 14, and then she jets to December. But if it’s evident that theaters can’t open by June, does Tenet even go in August? No way in hell is Warner Bros. looking to platform Tenet around the world, given the spoilers involved in this time-twisting espionage thriller. Reddit will have cracked this pic by the end of its Thursday night 7 PM preview.
Now as far as the will-they-won’t-moviegoers-come-back question, given what we’re seeing with folks storming beaches, people are eager to get out of their homes after being cooped-up since mid-March. If COVID-19 safety guidelines remain in place, a majority of moviegoers will head back to the cinema, according to an exclusive EDO poll published on Deadline tonight. Again, that’s the hope if Tenet stays, and it’s a less-dangerous place out there.
Too many sources off the record, and those who’ve made public statements like Disney CEO Bob Chapek and the Cinemark exec corps swear that exhibitors (and studios) can make money off reduced auditorium capacities of 30%-50%. However, like the late Andy Rooney, I, too, get hate mail, and after such reports, one exhibition vet snarked to me via text: “You really think theaters can survive on limited capacity? Here’s an oldie but a goodie: ‘Friday and Saturday night only come around once a week’. Proforma budget projections should be based on selling out at prime shows on Friday and Saturday, otherwise you wouldn’t build it! So to think that these theaters can be profitable at even 50% is ridiculous. Not to mention the loss of $10-$15 on concession per person. Seems we have a different perception of this business.”
The other complexity that many cite with opening Tenet in the near future is how the heck is Warners going to market this? It’s an original piece of IP without any major stars, a studio marketing executive’s headache. The longer that Warners waits, can they pull off a full octane global marketing campaign in a five-week span? What are the trigger points?
With many people out of work and less commuting, does it make sense to advertise on billboards and morning radio?
Some say that since they’re the only ones out there (event film wise), they have all the digital and televised bullhorns to themselves. Recently, Warner Bros. tapped TikTok for a #ScoobDance campaign for this weekend’s PVOD and digital release of the animated pic Scoob. It was originally scheduled to be in theaters, and they clocked near 4 billion views.
However, a conundrum is that movies need live sports to exist, and live sports need movies (ad revenue-wise). What live sporting events will be televised to promote Tenet on? There’s no soccer abroad. MLB is hoping for an Independence Day weekend return, which would help with Tenet TV spots. No word on NHL and or NBA, but Nascar vrooms back this Sunday at Darlington raceway.
What about prime TV shows everyone will be watching as they’re submerged in Netflix and Disney+? There’s no big season finales, few reality competition shows (there’s a few episodes of America’s Got Talent, and World of Dance down the road, but Big Brother is still TBD). But there is the final season of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The good news for Tenet so far: since the first trailer dropped on Dec. 19 last year, global online views have clocked a great 46.3M, with a viral video rate on YouTube of 41:1 and daily views in the mid-30K daily range per RelishMix.
“Christopher Nolan fans have been churning in anticipation of the complexities of the trailer that was dropped Dec. 19th, and convo continues to speculate as to how ‘Nolan’ this film will be, especially as moviegoers are literally locked-out of what is posed to be an unquestionable ‘theatrical experience’,” RelishMix tells Deadline.
And we hear that Tenet, which is already finished, is as amazing as Inception. In the days leading up to the Joker‘s release with all the concerns of copycat murders at theaters, and local police safety notices, that fall theatrical release was indeed a stressful time for Warner Bros. executives. But everything wound up being great in the end for Joker as it became the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time with $1.07B worldwide and won two Oscars. There’s no doubt that the studio’s ultimate anxiety for Tenet‘s release will ease ultimately, and with a silver lining.
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.