Movie Theater Chains Hopeful That July Release Calendar Will Hold

TENET -Publicity Still  4- H 2020
Warner Bros. Pictures

'Mulan' and 'Tenet' hope to kick off summer moviegoing, despite some states seeing COVID-19 increases.

After weeks of speculation, Warner Bros. revealed June 12 that Christopher Nolan's $200 million tentpole Tenet will relocate its release from July 17 to July 31 in case theaters take longer than expected to reopen after going dark in March amid the pandemic.

Nolan has been adamant about sticking to a summer release for Tenet in hopes of providing a balm to ravaged cinema chains. For now, he's getting his wish, but cases of COVID-19 are spiking in some locales, raising concerns about whether widespread moviegoing can resume in the near future.

Hollywood's messaging is mixed. While moving Tenet by only two weeks, Warners pushed Wonder Woman 1984 from Aug. 14 to Oct. 2, and took Legendary's Thanksgiving event pic Godzilla vs. Kong out of 2020 entirely to May 2021. Minutes after the Tenet news, Solstice Theaters said it was pushing the Russell Crowe thriller Unhinged from July 1 to July 10. And it's unclear whether Disney's Mulan will stay on July 24.

"At a minimum, it shows that the studios are being very, very cautious," says Wall Street analyst Eric Wold of B. Riley FBR. "If there is any risk, studios won't hesitate to move their films again."

The major movie circuits in the U.S. — including AMC, Regal and Cinemark — are planning on being open en masse by mid-July. Many locations, including in Los Angeles and New York, could even reopen July 10. 

"Given that this situation is changing on an almost daily basis, it is difficult if not impossible to make any definitive pronouncements about the release dates for movies," says Paul Dergarabedian of Comscore. "Studios are faced with an ever-changing set of circumstances with many moving parts including health concerns, the competitive landscape, their support of movie theaters and ultimately what is the best course of action to ensure success for their highest profile titles."

Paramount president of domestic distribution Chris Aronson, whose studio has The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run dated for Aug. 7 and A Quiet Place Part II for Sept. 4, is hopeful that the current calendar can hold: "I think it's pretty much on track barring any unforeseen circumstances."

Cinemark CEO Mark Zoradi is also optimistic. On June 17, his circuit revealed a slew of enhanced and social distancing measures, including encouraging customers to wear face masks. He also tells The Hollywood Reporter that Warners kept in close touch regarding Tenet.

"They and the other studios have been very, very good partners and we've told them all the things we are doing. Christopher Nolan made it clear he wanted to have his movie be one of the first that came out," Zoradi says. One assurance from Zoradi: "We will serve popcorn."

A version of this story first appeared in the June 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.