Tenet has been indefinitely pulled from Warner Bros.’ release calendar, driving a stake into the heart of the summer box office season.
Tenet director Christopher Nolan had hoped the film would be the one to reopen theaters shuttered by COVID-19. The film was pushed from July 17 to July 31, then to Aug. 17. But as COVID-19 cases surged after states reopened earlier this summer, Warner Bros. had little choice but to put the film on hold.
“We will share a new 2020 release date imminently for Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s wholly original and mind-blowing feature,” Warner Bros. chairman Toby Emmerich said in a statement. “We are not treating Tenet like a traditional global day-and-date release, and our upcoming marketing and distribution plans will reflect that.”
The reference to “not treating Tenet like a traditional global day-and-date release” suggests that Warner Bros. could roll out the release gradually, with different premiere dates in different locations — perhaps, for example, releasing it in locations with sharply declining rates of COVID-19 sooner than it releases Tenet in regions where cases are rising. But any guesses are pure speculation until Warner Bros. explains its strategy in detail.
Disney’s Mulan, the only other film still scheduled for Summer 2020 release, also appears likely to be delayed. It is now set for Aug. 21 after several changes to its release date.
The latest Tenet release date delay follows a slew of delays that started with the announcement months ago that the James Bond film Die Another Day would not come out as planned in Summer 2020, and would instead be pushed to fall.
Home streaming has surged and drive-ins have seen a resurgence this summer as people stay home or socially distanced and avoid public gathering places — or at least, avoid the public places that remain open. Major theater chains closed earlier this year, and those that had planned to reopen for Tenet are now likely to reconsider those plans.
Even Emmerich’s plan for a “new 2020 release date” may strike some as optimistic.
Last week, Cowen analyst Doug Creutz downgraded his rating on Walt Disney’s stock from “outperform” to “market perform” after predicting a “longer impact on parks and film” than previously expected, and adding that he expects “no film releases in fiscal year 2020.”