Christopher Nolan's 'Tenet' Delays Early August Release Amid Ongoing Coronavirus Crisis

TENET -Publicity Still  3- H 2020
Warner Bros. Pictures
As Hollywood grapples with a new normal, the Warner Bros. tentpole is no longer expected to get a conventional release and is likely to launch first in overseas markets.

The Aug. 12 release of Christopher Nolan's Tenet has been delayed due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis and a surge in cases in some parts of the United States, Warner Bros. announced Monday.

As Hollywood grapples with a new normal brought on by the pandemic, the $200 million tentpole is no longer expected to get a conventional release and is likely to open first in overseas markets. And in the U.S., it could go out first in cities where cinemas can safely reopen, versus nationwide. Warners is expected to announce its new plan in the coming days.

This marks the third time Tenet has moved; its original launching pad was July 17, followed by July 31 and then Aug. 12. Nolan and Warners have remained intent on providing distressed cinema owners with a boost when theaters reopen. That position still holds.

“Our goals throughout this process have been to ensure the highest odds of success for our films while also being ready to support our theater partners with new content as soon as they could safely reopen,” said Warner Bros. Pictures Group chairman Toby Emmerich.

"We will share a new 2020 release date imminently for Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s wholly original and mind-blowing feature. We are not treating Tenet like a traditional global day-and-date release, and our upcoming marketing and distribution plans will reflect that," Emmerich continued.

The studio chief also announced that The Conjuring 3, set for release on Sept. 11, is being pushed back to June 4, 2021 (the move had been widely expected). Monday's announcement does not impact Wonder Woman 1984, which remains scheduled for Oct. 2, and Dune, set for Dec. 18.

U.S. cinemas had hoped to begin reopening at the end of July, but that's no longer possible in such states as California. And while New York City on Monday moved into the fourth and final phase of its reopening, it's not clear when theaters will be back in operation (Los Angeles and New York City are the country's two largest moviegoing markets). Elsewhere, theaters can fully open in more than 35 states and partially in another batch of states.

In the era of the blockbuster, Hollywood has typically released its movies across the country at the same time. And on a global basis, the U.S. is usually first or day-and-date with a new release. With the pandemic, distributors are starting to rethink how they release films and may instead opt for a rolling launch — which could also make marketing campaigns less expensive — in markets where the pandemic has eased.

Cinemas in many territories overseas have begun to reopen. Over the weekend, the new South Korean film Peninsula took in an impressive $20 million from South Korea and four other Asian markets.

While North America is the largest moviegoing market in the world, a Hollywood tentpole such as Tenet can see two-thirds of its box office come from international territories.

Little is known about Nolan's $200 million film, other than it has to do with international espionage and deals with the time continuum. John David Washington leads an ensemble cast that includes Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kenneth Branagh and Michael Caine.

It remains to be seen whether Disney likewise pushes Mulan again (as of now, the Niki Caro-directed epic is set for Aug. 21).

Solstice Studios' Unhinged, a road-rage thriller starring Russell Crowe, is likely to push its July 31 release date. And hours after the Tenet announcement Sony/TriStar temporarily unscheduled romantic-comedy The Broken Hearts Gallery, which had been set to hit theaters on Aug. 7.

July 20, 1:10 p.m. Updated with The Broken Hearts Gallery change.