Hope for ‘Tenet?’: NATO Expects 90 Percent of Global Theaters to Open by Mid-July

     June 4, 2020


There’s renewed optimism that Christopher Nolan‘s Tenet will maintain its original release date on July 17 in the wake of a new report stating that the National Association of Theatre Owners expects 90% of the global theatrical marketplace to be open by mid-July.

The surprisingly high figure comes from Business Insider, which cites a representative for NATO, the organization that represents movie theaters across America. Of course, if the figure is 90%, it’s unclear what the other 10% represents. Could that 10% consists of major theaters in Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco and Chicago? Because if those cities do make up that 10%, I have a hard time believing that Warner Bros. will release Tenet in the other 90% of theaters. I think it has to be all or nothing on this one, because Nolan fanboys in those major cities will not be happy with Warner Bros., and frankly, studios aren’t in a position to alienate loyal customers right now.

In fact, I’m not buying much of anything regarding this new (inflated?) figure, and it remains mind-boggling to me that WB hasn’t delayed the release of Tenet, even if it’s only by a month. The studio is playing an ill-advised game of chicken with a deadly virus, and counting on countless teenage theater employees across the country to immaculately clean theaters when many, hardworking though they may be, still have trouble cleaning their own bedrooms.


Image via Warner Bros.

NATO’s entire job is to be optimistic right now, but a mass reopening just doesn’t seem realistic to me, especially with COVID-19 cases poised to rise in the wake of recent protests. That’s just science. I’m glad people are out there supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, but we are still in the middle of a pandemic and have to remain vigilant, and I simply see too many people letting their guard down with regards to the coronavirus, which truly does not discriminate.

While I’m skeptical of the 90% figure, which strikes me as completely arbitrary — and besides, NATO oversees American theaters, not international theaters — the figure itself is irrelevant, as we must keep in mind that theaters will no doubt be operating at limited capacity. 50%, or half-capacity, strikes me as generous right now. It’s possible that only 25% to 35% of seats will be sold for any given showing, though I expect there will, at least, be a lot more showings, since there will be a lot less competition in the marketplace.

California will almost certainly be among the states to allow theaters to reopen so long as they practice social distancing, though I don’t understand how Warner Bros. could release a $200 million movie if theaters play at less than half-capacity. The studio is at the mercy of government officials and health regulators, but I don’t know why Nolan would risk a potential outbreak and have that on his conscience. There’s just no upside to going first under these challenging circumstances.


Image via Warner Bros.

Under normal circumstances, Tenet might be showing on 3-6 screens at a 16-screen multiplex. Let’s just say, for the sake of simple math, that a sold-out auditorium is 100 seats, and there are four auditoriums showing Tenet five times per day. That’s 2000 people per day who would see Tenet. Now let’s say Tenet is showing on all 16 screens, but due to regulations, a sold-out auditorium is just 25 seats. 25 seats multiplied by five showings per day on 16 screens gets you the same 2000-people figure. The fewer people potentially sneezing and coughing in the auditorium, the safer it would be for audiences. So what we saw at the outset of this pandemic in early March might prove to be the new normal for a while.

Right now, Tenet is poised to lose screens to Mulan if Disney doesn’t end up sending the film straight to VOD, or its own Disney+ streaming service. And keep in mind that WB has another summer tentpole, Wonder Woman 1984, slated to open atop the box office on August 12, with Gal Gadot reprising her heroic role, and Patty Jenkins back in the director’s chair.

For what it’s worth, I’ve heard Tenet will, in fact, be delayed, and that Warner Bros. is just trying to find a new date, which is hard since the calendar is jam-packed with big movies. That’s why there was no date on the most recent trailer. But how many films could possibly be bigger than a new Nolan movie? Tenet could always swap places with WW84, or possibly Dune, which is slated to open in December — just three days before Tom Cruise‘s Top Gun sequel.

Who knows what the theatrical landscape will even look like in a month? Cinemark is planning to open five theaters in Texas on June 19 for a “test phase” of its new safety procedures — which strangely enough, don’t even require patrons to wear a mask. I mean, that seems like the basic starting place for in-theater safety, so needless to say, I won’t be visiting a Cinemark theater anytime soon. Neither will Spike Lee, for that matter. Meanwhile, Regal Theaters owner Cineworld expects all of its theaters to reopen in July, while AMC has “substantial doubt” about its ability to stay in business — though it’s unclear whether that’s with or without Tenet coming out on time.

We here at Collider would love nothing more than to see movie theaters reopen, but safety — not entertainment — must be the priority. This is a developing situation, so stay tuned, and we’ll keep you posted. To watch the latest Tenet trailer, click here.

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